At least Rs 3,900 crore was laundered through shell companies between November-December after the ban on high-value banknotes, investigations by a central agency have found.
The probe by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) has also identified at least 54 people who helped 559 beneficiaries with laundering the illicit cash, sources said.
The government recalled 500 and 1000-rupee notes on November 8 in a move it said was aimed at sucking out illicit cash from the system. Since then, various financial crime investigating agencies are tracking movement of high volumes of cash.
The sources said the people involved in laundering the money through 49 shell companies have been identified and could face stringent action.
Shell companies, which are anonymous corporate entities with fake ownership, are used as conduits to convert illicit money into legal cash and are vital to the money laundering chain.
A task force comprising members of various regulatory ministries and enforcement agencies has been set up under revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia and corporate affairs secretary Tapan Ray to monitor action taken against shell companies.
“Stringent action will be taken against the shell companies,” a source said. “The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016 will also be applicable.”
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) held a high level meeting on Friday to review the functioning of shell companies registered in India.
PMO sources said criminal prosecution has been filed against these companies for cheating the exchequer and the process to wind up these 49 companies is underway.
An initial report by various agencies has revealed that only six lakh out of the 15 lakh registered companies file annual returns, implying that a large number of these firms may be indulging in financial irregularities.
Sources told Hindustan Times that all information has been shared with the Special Investigation Team (SIT), Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).