As a multi-agency probe continues in Saradha scam, findings of one official investigation suggests that the group floated at least 279 companies to channelise money collected from gullible investors as part of a vast 'ponzi' network.
Most of these firms have been found to be 'inoperational' and were utilised for the sole purpose of multi-routing of funds to hide the money trail, while close to Rs 2,500 crore were raised by just four companies.
The probe, conducted by the corporate affairs ministry's white-collar crime investigation agency SFIO, also found that these four companies collected 96% money from small investors who deposited less than Rs 50,000 each.
The money was mobilised through a vast network of nearly 3 lakh agents, sources said citing an over 500-page SFIO probe report. The scam, wherein lakhs of investors in West Bengal and neighbouring states were lured into illegal money pooling activities, came to light early last year amid allegations that a section of Trinamool Congress leaders were involved.
Initially, it came out to be known as 'Saradha chit fund scam' although none of Saradha group entities were registered as 'chit funds'.
However, it has become the first major case in India to officially get a 'ponzi' tag after submission of final probe report of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to the government.
Like a typical ponzi scheme, Saradha was found to be paying returns to older investors from money collected from newer subscribers to its 'bonds and policies'. Such activities came to be known as ponzi schemes after Charles Ponzi, who became notorious in the US in the 1920s for deploying this technique while promising 50% return on investments in 45 days and 100% within 90 days.
In its over 500-page probe report, SFIO also concluded that Kolkata-based Saradha group was into money market operations but camouflaged it as real estate activities.
"The intention to defraud is evident from the fact that funds mobilised were not productively utilised for generating surplus. Rather, funds were swindled away in acquiring loss making media companies for extraneous reasons and misappropriating the funds," SFIO said.
The probe agency has recommended action against Saradha group and its directors on accounts of more than 20 violations including falsification of accounts. Observing that the West Bengal Police only made available "limited information", SFIO said that "detailed investigation could be made only in respect of the four fund raising companies Saradha Printing & Publication Pvt Ltd, Bengal Media Pvt Ltd and Global Automobiles Pvt Ltd".
According to SFIO, Saradha Group chief Sudipta Sen, who is currently in jail, was a director in 160 companies and his son Subhojit Sen in 64 companies.