The CBI will investigate the multi-crore Saradha Ponzi fund scam that robbed several thousand small investors in West Bengal of their life’s savings, and many of their lives as well. The Supreme Court ordered the probe Friday, directing the agency to look into similar scams in Odisha, Tripura and Assam too.
The order is a huge setback to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government in Bengal, more so since it comes days ahead of Monday’s polling in 17 Lok Sabha seats. Several TMC leaders are alleged to be involved and party MP Kunal Kumar Ghosh was arrested in November 2013.
Sudipta Sen’s Saradha group, founded in 2006, lured thousands of investors and agents with schemes offering returns as high as 25-30% and left them bankrupt when it went bust in April 2013, prompting many to commit suicide.
Calling it a “sordid affair”, the SC was dismissive of the probe by the Bengal police. “Investigation by the state police in a scam that involves thousands of crores collected from the public, allegedly due to the patronage of people occupying high positions, will hardly carry conviction, especially when even the regulators expected to prevent or check such a scam appear to have turned a blind eye to what was going on,” it said.
“That Investigation so far conducted reveals the involvement of several political and other personalities wielding considerable clout,” the bench said, adding that the roles of regulators such as SEBI, authorities under the Companies Act and the RBI were also under investigation.
Read: Saradha probe may hurt TMC in Delhi and at home
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A defiant Mamata said, “It doesn’t matter to me if the inquiry is done by CBI or its father. Let’s see what it can do. We have returned money to the 4.5 lakh victims and CBI has to return the money too. If they can’t, the victims will go to the houses of Congress, CPI(M) and BJP leaders.”
Welcoming the verdict, CPM state secretary Biman Bose said, “There is TV footage showing leaders and ministers of the ruling party sharing the dais with (Sudipta) Sen. In one particular programme, a Trinamool leader even praises Sen for making millions out of virtually nothing. A thorough probe will reveal the actual beneficiaries. The state police probe was a mere eyewash.”
“We are asking why this government opposed a CBI probe till the last moment? Because it was afraid of its nexus with Saradha getting exposed,” said the BJP’s Prakash Javadekar. The Congress’ Adhir Chowdhury added,
“The SC verdict is a personal political loss for Mamata Banerjee. She opposed the CBI inquiry… her cloak of honesty has ultimately vanished. The people of Bengal will give her a fitting reply.”
Read: Bengal govt welcomes SC order on CBI probe
The chit fund companies, including Saradha, reportedly duped investors in the four states of around Rs 10,000 crore. “That the companies indulging in ponzi schemes have their tentacles in different states giving the scam inter-state ramifications. That such huge collections could have international money laundering dimensions cannot be ruled out and needs to be effectively investigated,” the court said.
Citing a SEBI report, the SC said the Saradha group had floated 160 companies of which four were “front runners” in the scam. As many as 221,000 agents were working for Saradha Realty India Ltd and the report estimates the collection made by Saradha at Rs 2,459 crore.
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(Inputs from HTC, Kolkata)