Navy skydivers in freefall, probed for fraud

Two top officers of the Indian Navy's Skydiving Team are being investigated for alleged embezzlement of funds worth almost Rs 1 crore. Lt Commanders N. Rajesh and Mahesh Birajdar—whose record breaking stunts had made them the blue-eyed boys of the Indian Navy—are in for more trouble: one of India's top women skydivers has accused them of duping her of money.

The two senior-most members of the highflying team, which has carried out a series of national record-breaking jumps in the last three years, are facing a board of inquiry in Delhi for misusing adventure sports funds for personal use, including an extended vacation in Paris.

Of the two officers, Birajdar shot to fame last year when he carried out a 'birdman' jump over Kochi in a specially designed suit that helped him to literally fly across the city before gliding down in a parachute. Both also carried out a 'record breaking' freefall over the South Pole in 2006.

While the inquiry is on, insiders say the two officers are being investigated for almost Rs 1 crore in misappropriated funds during their several trips abroad for training and on various skydiving events in the last three years.

Among the charges is that they embezzled over Rs 40 lakh of government funds when the team visited Australia for a skydiving event. Another charge relates to an unauthorised stay in Paris during another event. The third charge is of duping Shital Mahajan, one of India's most prominent women skydivers, of money she had collected to make a record breaking jump over the South Pole in 2006.

While the Navy has said that it has no comment to offer till the inquiry is over, Mahajan, who is currently based in Finland, spoke to The Sunday Express and said that she has submitted proof, including recorded phone conversations with the two officers, as evidence to the board of inquiry.

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