Probing the infamous Saradha scam for Bengal’s investigat-ing agencies is like searching for the man who stole overcoats in Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat. It is a mammoth task made more difficult due to the involvement of political bigwigs.
The enormity of the challenge is manifold. First, the web of financial irregularities amounting to thousands of crores of rupees. Second, the involvement of politicians in the scam and third, the way the scam rendered lakhs of people penniless.
THE LURE OF EASY MONEY
By promising high returns, Sudipta Sen, the owner of Saradha Group, convinced lakhs of investors to deposit money in various schemes. The lure of fast and easy money was impossible for many to avoid.
According to an officer of the Bidhannagar city police, Sen had taken money from the public promising high returns. But many of the cheques that were issued bounced and people were denied their promised share. In addition, his tour and travels company promised interesting vacations but many complained that despite depositing money they were denied the vacation. At the same time, he allegedly cheated many people promising them flats and plots of land.
Some of the employees of his media companies have also alleged that their salaries were denied for months.
The scam was perpetrated through hundreds of front companies. It was not only carried out in Bengal, but also in neighbouring states like Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand and Bihar. Till date, the cops have no trace of how many people have actually been cheated.
THE PROGRESS SO FAR
Many skeletons have tumbled out of the closet since the investigation began. Police have found out that there are about 160 registered companies under the flagship of Saradha Group. According to the cops, Sen had collected huge amounts of money, mainly through three companies – tours and travels, agro and realty. The sections of IPC, which have been slapped on Sen are — IPC 420 (cheating people), IPC 406 (criminal breach of trust) and IPC 120 B (conspiracy). South 24-Parganas police slapped 306 (abetment of suicide) on Sen after an investor committed suicide.
Soon after Sen was arrested, the cops seized landed properties, cars, ambulances and several documents and office computers to trace the source and mode of business. Debjani Mukherjee, the second-in-command in business, who was also arrested along with Sen, has provided important clues to the police in tracking the company’s assets.
The cops have gained some success in cracking Debjani’s silence and if everything goes right, she might become a state approver. For Debjani, that’s also an easy way out of this mess. She realises that if she becomes a state approver, she might get an early release from prison.
During interrogation, police have stumbled on loads of information on how Sen bought the allegiance of political bigwigs. The involvement of leaders of the ruling party has made the investigation procedure more difficult.
However, the arrest of Bumba, Sen’s principal cohort in collecting money in South 24-Parganas, is likely to help unearth vital information on the way victims were duped and how money was collected through various means at the grassroots level.
“We are sure that many more people with strong political connections were involved in the scam. It’s not possible for only two or three persons to mastermind this huge scam so easily,” claimed an investigating officer.
FUTURE COURSE OF ACTION
On Friday, Sudipta Sen appealed before the Calcutta High Court, asking it to take charge of all assets of his companies, projects, media houses, bank accounts and sell them off to repay the dues of the genuine customers and employees of his companies.
The court is yet to take the decision. This is a definite legal strategy to highlight his “willingness” to pay and explain his helplessness because his company went bankrupt. However, if this is a legal ploy, Sen can claim some kind of innocence only if he can pay a certain amount to investors who have been cheated.
The police now have a gigantic task of properly accounting Sen and his company’s assets. They need to frame all the cases against Sen and other political honchos properly. The court and the investigating agencies also have to ascertain whether these assets truly belong to the accused and most importantly, whether the victims could be paid back their money.
Sen’s imminent release from jail, even if it’s on bail, however, does not look that bright as cases outside Bengal are yet to be probed properly and the police of those states would like to take him in custody and interrogate him.