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Exclusive! How Sonia's PA V George amassed his millions

Exclusive! How Sonia's PA V George amassed his millions

Author: Prabha Chandran
Publication: www.indya.com
Date: April 18, 2001

At the height of his powers senior Congress leaders used to kowtow to him and V George allegedly amassed a fortune through alliances with politicians, fixers and bureaucrats, many of whom are now squealing to the CBI. He is the most surprising casualty of the Tehelka tapes. Not because he doesn't figure in them even remotely, but because he was an effectively-used pawn in the BJP's efforts to deflect the Congress offensive.

How could the Congress claim the PMO was corrupt when their leader's PA was facing a CBI investigation? While the full story of Vincent George's rise and fall from incredible power and wealth is still to be told, there is no doubt his days at 10, Janpath are over. His room is already being redecorated as a VIP lounge.

The message is clear: the Gandhis, particularly Priyanka, want nothing more to do with him. And, far from defending George, some of their close friends are helping the investigation.

The rise of a complete nonentity like V George to a position where he amassed enough wealth and influence to make and break national leaders is, as we shall see, a tale of our times.

Like the Tehelka tapes, V George is living testimony to the systemic corruption that allows "extra-Constitutional" authorities to hijack our democracy every single day even as they provide patronage to unholy middlemen, fixers and corrupt bureaucrats.

This is the story of one man's journey to the centre of power from humble dwellings in a Kottayam village. The son of an ordinary constable who was allegedly suspended on four occasions for drinking and brawling, V George's formal education ended after Class X when he joined the government service as a clerk.

And there he would have remained as an ordinary typist had it not been for his networking abilities, which soon evoked a recommendation from the Bishop of Kottayam to Margaret Alva to take him on as her personal assistant. It must be said in George's favour that he was earnest, quiet, hard-working and determined to improve his lot in life. He read a lot and was later to acquire a degree by correspondence course from Mysore university. It was this sincerity and devotion to duty that prompted Alva to send George to Rajiv Gandhi as his PA when he became general secretary of the Congress in 1981.

George worked round the clock as Rajiv's private secretary and won his trust in return. "He was the last man Rajivji used to see every night," says one Congress politician.

"George would escort Rajiv to the bedroom whether it was midnight or 3.00 AM, holding a torch so as not to waken Sonia who invariably went to sleep before him." In those days he had none of the discretionary powers he was later to enjoy with Sonia because Rajiv Gandhi was accessible to all with his daily darshans.

In those comparatively penurious days, George's wife Lily was working as a nurse in Iraq. Later, she returned to join Escorts Heart Hospital in Delhi and remained on the payroll till 1987. The "poor nurse" whose heartrending plea of being "the sole bread earner" elicited a petrol pump on compassionate grounds, was soon to be seen "dripping in diamonds" shopping her days away.

For the nurse had metamorphosed into a flourishing exporter - at least on paper. Now, the CBI is following a paper trail of large remittances through drafts drawn from banks in the US where, coincidentally, George's sister lives.

Most of these drafts came from the State Bank's Flushing branch in New York. Also under investigation are business connections in Dubai.

But back to George. His rise from material and political obscurity did not begin with Sonia but when Rajiv became Prime Minister. The first instance to come to light was when Gandhi arrived at Bangalore airport and sacked the then chief minister Veerendra Patil at the airport itself.

His decision to replace the ailing Chief Minister with a backward class candidate was conveyed to S Bangarappa through a friend of V George's, K J George. Bangarappa eventually became Karanataka CM, K George became a minister in his government. and the rest was money in the bank.

So grateful was Bangarappa to George that he is said to have gifted him 12 acres of land on Bangalore's Ring Road that is today worth over Rs 10 crore. The plot is officially owned by three other people, of course. There are unconfirmed reports of another two-acre plot in Bangalore's Whitefield, also allegedly gifted by Bangarappa.

The first paper to break the story of the Bangarappa-K J George-V George nexus was The Times of India . V George was to get his revenge many years later when his Enforcement Directorate appointee Ashok Aggarwal was one of the persons who went after Times chairman Ashok Jain for alleged Fera violations.

George's meteoric rise to power in the 1990s came from a series of alliances with Kerala and Karnataka politicians. His wealth came from many sources, including an unholy nexus with NRI businessman Abhishek Verma and deputy director of Enforcement Directorate Ashok Aggarwal.

Ironically, it was George who is said to have secured Aggarwal's posting after he left the Maharashtra ITO under a cloud and it is Aggarwal who is now singing like a canary to the CBI. One reason: his wife and Lily were said to be partners in one of the bogus export companies that have come to light.

"My guess is that George must be worth at least Rs 500 crores," says a businessman from south India, on conditions of anonymity. Apart from the Bangalore properties, he mentions a bungalow on Mount Road in Chennai (one report claims it is registered to Aggarwal ), 150 acres of prime coffee estates in Coorg and houses in South Delhi.

If Abhishek Verma's testimony under oath is to be believed, Aggarwal had helped George arrange funds to buy a house in Anand Niketan in South Delhi. On his part, George denies having any business links with Aggarwal: "It is a baseless allegation," says George who is also being investigated as the owner of a flat in South Extension and land in Neb Sarai, in South Delhi. In his defence, George says he did not buy any property without due authorisation.

According to a report published in The Deccan Herald, Priyanka Gandhi is said to have confronted George with a video film on his properties in the presence of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and family friend Captain Satish Sharma.

Apparently, George was unable to give a satisfactory explanation and was fired by Priyanka. According to Congress sources both Sharma and Priyanka had grown steadily disenchanted with George over the years for the influence he exercised over Sonia including distancing her from Rajiv's closest friends Capt. Sharma, Arun Singh and Amitabh Bachchan.

After Sonia became party president there was no stopping George. "He controlled all access to Sonia," says one Congress leader, "it took me seven months to get an appointment with her. When I arrived, George was not at his table and Sonia was free so I walked straight in to meet her. When I came out, I saw George and wanted to say hello - he made me wait three hours!" Such was the arrogance of the man who had become Sonia's self-styled adviser that he even kept senior Congress leaders like Sharad Pawar and K Karunakaran waiting for more than 40 minutes after being given time with Sonia.

So why, you wonder, would senior national leaders kowtow to a PA? "Sitaram Kesri used to behave like his servant," recalls one Congress MP, "Arjun Singh would sit at his table for hours, even Madhavrao Scindia treated him like some superior being. And why not? George showed his ability to influence Madame when he got Subhash Chopra appointed as PCC president." Being as naïve as she was when she became party president, Sonia was being manipulated by her PA in subtle ways without realising it. But those who watched from the sidelines soon realised which side their bread was buttered on. The George fan club apparently included such luminaries as Oscar Fernandes, Ajit Jogi, Ramesh Chenethella, S M Krishna, Salman Khurshid, M L Fotedar and Sheila Dikshit.

Less enamoured of him was old boss Margaret Alva (believed to have squashed a move for his Rajya Sabha nomination by Bangarappa), Pranab Mukherjee, the late Jitendra Prasad and the lady who is advising Madame these days, Ambika Soni. Like any powerful leader George had his own universe of sycophants and conspirators.

At the height of his powers, George held personal court at 10, Janpath. Listen to this account by a senior business delegate who wanted to invite Sonia for a function:

"I had been given a time by George and I arrived at 10, Janpath. There was a huge crowd outside. I had to park my car half a mile away and approach the gates. There were phone calls made to "George saab" or his security and I was allowed in. All the others, many of whom shouted they also had appointments with George saab, had to wait outside the compound.

"All the time I was walking up to his office, there were constant calls being made to check my appointment. On reaching George's office I was asked to wait. After half an hour, someone came out and asked the four others waiting before me to leave because George had to go somewhere. The man said in Malayalam that it was an excuse to get rid of them.

"They protested but had no choice. Such was the aura created around George saab that when he finally came out 20 minutes later it was like the Prime minister had agreed to give me an audience!"

George saab was running his own empire. But then, the bubble burst. The clouds began to gather two years ago when Abhishek Verma, son of Rajya Sabha member Veena Verma, was arrested by the CBI along with Aggarwal for framing a Karol Bagh businessman in a false case.

Verma disclosed during his interrogation that he, along with George and Ashok Aggarwal, former deputy director in the Enforcement Directorate, had made millions in several illegal deals. Friends say George managed to get the inquiry squashed through the good offices of a socialite friend from Kerala who is a close confidante of his and of some BJP bigwigs. He had helped promote her political career in the past but it never took off. Whatever the truth about the allegations of hush money, George did not count on Tehelka upsetting his carefully arranged apple cart. When the can of worms opened, there were enough knives out already.

Everyday, new stories of his dealings are coming to light - be it seat allocations for Karnataka medical and engineering colleges where each seat is worth Rs 25 lakh or the deals done by the election observers who recently went to Goa, all fingers are suddenly pointing at George.

The question in political circles is: how much dirt does he have on Congress leaders including the Gandhis? What will happen when he starts squealing? Only time - George willing - will tell.

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