The government on Thursday launched a multi-agency probe into the activities of Kolkata-based Saradha group of companies, which is embroiled in a scandal involving thousands of crores of rupees that has engulfed politicians, bureaucrats and media figures in a swirl of allegations.
The Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) will probe the company’s promoters, accused of swindling thousands of gullible small depositors across eastern India of their savings.
Separately, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) — which tracks overseas transactions and deals suspected to be structured to obscure the source of funds — launched a money-laundering probe against Saradha group chairman Sudipta Sen.
The income tax department has also begun an inquiry into the finances and investments of the group and its promoters.
Casting the net wide, the corporate affairs ministry said in a statement that a special task force has been set up under the SFIO to carry out all investigations not only pertaining to Saradha but other chit fund companies as well.
According to sources, there are over 110 companies of Saradha group under the same name, most of them registered at Diamond Harbour Road in Kolkata.
The SFIO, set up in 2003, is a multi-disciplinary agency empowered to investigate cases of alleged frauds that have substantial involvement of public interest either in terms of monetary misappropriation or persons affected.
The SFIO probe was ordered after corporate affairs minister Sachin Pilot held a meeting with senior officials on the issue.
The ED plans to take Sen into custody after his custodial interrogation by the West Bengal Police ends. Sen was arrested from Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday along with two others. A Kolkata court on Thursday remanded him in 14-day police custody.
"Our probe has been launched on the basis of four FIRs against Sudipta in Assam. We are now seeking information about cases registered against him in Bengal. It will be a comprehensive and consolidated probe," said a senior ED official.
Sen, in a purported letter to the CBI, has accused two Trinamool Congress MPs of fleecing him.
Capital market regulator Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has also begun a fresh probe into the group's fund-raising activities, following complaints from some investors that its collective investment scheme (CIS) was carried out without necessary regulatory approvals.
A CIS scheme typically involves the pooling of funds from depositors that can be used only for a specific purpose approved by regulators.
On Wednesday, the Bengal government announced the setting up of a Rs. 500-crore relief fund "for small and medium investors of Saradha".
Sebi has already ordered Saradha Realty India to close all its CIS schemes and refund the money to investors within three months.