After arrest of Pratap Sarnaik’s aide, ED claims link between Thane MLA, firm
A special The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court on Thursday remanded Amit Chandole, a close business associate of Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik, in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody till Sunday in a money laundering case related to Topsgrup, a security service giant owned by businessman Rahul Nanda. ED had sought his custody to probe various money laundering aspects of irregularities linked to Nanda.
ED in their remand application has stated that from the probe conducted so far, it appears that Topsgrup obtained contract from Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in “collusion with Sarnaik through illegal means by a well-thought out strategy”. “The aim of these illegal manoeuvrers was to get additional inadmissible benefit by inflating the bills at the cost of MMRDA and illegal cash gratification to Sarnaik for facilitating this scam. Against this active role and criminal conspiracy, Sarnaik used to get 50% profit earned out of the said contract through Amit Chandole,” said the ED’s application.
Nanda had earlier denied all the allegations. “Pratap is a very old friend and has not invested a single penny into my business or company ever. He or Sena have nothing to do with Tops. This is absolutely absurd.” Sarnaik has claimed vendetta politics behind the allegations. “The day I moved a privilege motion against (actor) Kangana Ranaut and [Republic TV editor-in-chief] Arnab Goswami, and spoke about reopening the Anvay Naik (suicide) case, I knew what would happen. I am a Shiv Sainik and a fighter who has reached this far. (Chief minister) Uddhavsaheb has made me the spokesperson to put forward the party’s views. Today they told him [Vihang] your father speaks a lot on Ranaut and Goswami. I will continue to speak wherever Mumbai, Maharashtra or its police are maligned. I have done nothing wrong in my business,” he had told a news channel on Tuesday, the day his offices were raided. On Wednesday, the legislator quarantined himself after his return to the state from Goa and asked a week’s time to appear before ED.
According to ED, Chandole accepted the receipt of cash from Topsgrup. The billing was done by the security firm by allegedly inflating the number of contracted security guards deployed for MMRDA projects. Therefore, part of the amount received by Topsgrup from MMRDA appears to be proceeds of crime. The 50% profit of the said contract was being shared by Topsgrup with Sarnaik through Chandole and sometimes, through bank transfer to the account of a third person. Chandole appears to be a recipient of the proceeds of crime fraudulently obtained by Topsgrup from MMRDA, ED’s remand application stated.
ED’s money laundering probe is based on the case registered by Mumbai’s Yellow Gate police on October 28 on the direction of 16th metropolitan magistrate court, against Nanda and his family members. Topsgrup former vice-chairman Ramesh Ramkrishna Iyer is a complainant in the case, who approached the court alleging Nanda’s involvement in unlawful activities, massive irregularities in the company and misappropriation of funds involving Rs175 crore and cheating company’s employees, its shareholders, other government and private organisations with forged documents. lyer alleged that Nanda and the others diverted huge funds from the accounts of Topsgrup companies to various accounts in India and to accounts of overseas companies. He also alleged that these funds were further utilised by Nanda and other individuals for their personal purposes such as purchasing real estate etc and thus defrauded the company Rs175 crore. The case was recently transferred to the Mumbai Police’s economic offences wing (EOW) for further investigation.
Iyer and Topsgrup’s former director of finance Amar Panghal alleged that in 2014, a contract was signed by Topsgrup Services & Solutions Ltd with MMRDA as per which, the security firm was to deploy 350 to 500 guards at project sites on a monthly basis. While only 70% of the guards were actually deployed, the billing was done for all the guards as per the contract. The details of the wages paid to the labourers were submitted to MMRDA for 100% of the contract value and accordingly the documents of their provident fund (PF)/ Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) were also submitted, ED stated before the court.
The agency further alleged that huge cash amounts were withdrawn from the bank accounts of Topsgrup Services & Solutions Ltd and given to a former top executive of the firm, which in financial year 2017-18, amounted to Rs92 lakh. There was an arrangement with two people, one of whom was Chandole, as per which 50% of the profits (revenue billed to MMRDA by showing wages to workers and their PF) were being shared on a monthly basis. In addition, a fixed commission of Rs50,000 per month and Rs500 per guard (as per contracted agreement) deployed was being paid to both the people by the former top executive.
As per the details provided by lyer, from May 2017 till June this year, the amount aggregating to Rs2.36 crore has been shared as commission. Of the said amount, Rs90 lakh has been paid through bank transfers to Chandole and the other person. As per lyer, all these amounts are still being paid from Topsgrup bank accounts and commissions worth Rs7 crore has been paid to Chandole and the other person since 2014 (the year the contract with MMRDA was initiated).
During the course of investigation, the statement of the former top executive was recorded on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which he has allegedly stated that Nanda acquired a United Kingdom- based (UK) firm, Shield Guarding Company Limited, in 2014 for around Rs200-250 crore.
On the pretext of meeting the expenses of the overseas company, Nanda used to siphon off money from his Indian firm. These funds were allegedly used for the personal expenses of Nanda and his family and for acquiring several immovable properties in Dubai and the UK.
The former top executive also submitted that the said contract, worth around Rs32-33 lakh per month, was regarding the security and traffic management of footover bridges of Mumbai. For sharing a 50-50 profit, a sheet used to be prepared by the company’s finance department and approved by Panghal. Chandole used to coordinate with the finance department and collect the said profit share on behalf of Sarnaik, ED said. Funds mostly used to be delivered in cash. A company employee used to maintain the records and she used to mostly coordinate with Chandole, ED stated.