Katni: The ongoing enforcement directorate (ED) probe into the alleged Rs 500 crores hawala (money laundering) racket in Katni town of Madhya Pradesh could throw many stunners in the coming days.
The agency which lodged a case under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) last week recently sent its three-strong team to Katni (375 km from Bhopal) for preliminary probe.
According to ED sources, it’s not only accounts of 40-odd bogus firms opened between 2008 and 2010 with Axis Bank in Katni, which are linked to the suspected money laundering racket.
Instead several dozen more accounts opened and closed between 2006 and 2010 with 10-15 more banks (among them several nationalized and public sector banks) in Katni could well be linked to the hawala racket under investigation.
One of these 10-15 banks importantly is located in the building owned by alleged masterminds of the racket, Satish and Manish Saraogi.
Sources added that detailed records pertaining to several dozen accounts with these banks in the name of bogus firms have been sought for examination by the ED.
With ED digging deeper and expanding its probe to accounts in other banks of Katni, the alleged hawala racket might well involve just 40-odd bogus firms, but well over 100 such firms.
Sources added that with more accounts in several other banks and related transactions being under the ED scanner now, the total magnitude of the alleged racket could be many times higher than the present Rs 500-plus crores racket.
According to sources associated with investigations, these accounts with other banks seem to have been opened since 2006 to help legalise unaccounted sales of subsidized coal, dolomite, bauxite and other minerals in open market.
Bills of these bogus firms could have been opened and closed within a year or two to make proceeds of illegal sale of minerals and coal.
Further, the Katni police investigating the four cases lodged in 2016 are now zeroing on merely on cheating and forgery per se opening of accounts of bogus firms.
The police which was on the verge of making major breakthrough in the entire matter after arresting key aide of Saraogi siblings, Sandeep Bardhan on January 5 night is now revisiting the four cases of cheating, forgery and fraud lodged in 2016.
The new SP of Katni Shashikant Shukla (who a few years back was part of CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s security apparatus) told Hindustan Times on Wednesday, “who coined the hawala racket theory I don’t know..we’re focusing only on investigations into the cheating, forgery and fraud, besides opening of accounts of bogus firms with the Axis Bank in Katni.”
“The fresh investigations into the four cases have led us to a few crucial disclosures which cannot be shared with media at this point of time. We’re now trying to plug in a few loose ends of the earlier investigations in the case, which jumped a few key steps of investigations to arrive at a conclusion,” said Shukla referring about investigations carried out by special investigation team (SIT) into the four cases under the previous SP Gaurav Tiwari.
The Katni SP also added that out of the four cases lodged in the matter, three of complainants have already stated on record that the bank accounts were opened with the Axis Bank in their knowledge. “Only these accounts were used to carry out fraudulent transactions,” said Shukla.
However, when queried about why the police has been unable to track the alleged masterminds of the racket, when the police was close to grilling them just two weeks ago, Shukla said “before I came to Katni, the police had summoned Saraogi siblings for questioning in the matter, but the summon was not complied with. All I can say now is that they are absconding.”
Importantly, Saraogi siblings are believed to be close to MP minister of state for MSME Sanjay Pathak, owing to which the opposition Congress has been enduringly demanding Pathak’s ouster from Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Grilling of Saraogi’s key aides, including Sandeep Bardhan and Sanjay Tiwari three weeks ago had revealed that crores of rupees laundered between 2008 and 2010 via accounts of bogus firms opened in Axis Bank Katni using documents of ordinary individuals and BPL card holders were done at the behest of Saraogi siblings, who are close to Pathak.
“Allegations of covering up the investigations, changing their track are all aimed to defame me, the state government and the minister by vested interests. This matter has now assumed national importance and investigations are on the right course,” maintained Shukla.