Chandrakar’s firm, which sponsored IIFA event, under ED scanner | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Chandrakar’s firm, which sponsored IIFA event, under ED scanner

Jan 07, 2024 08:38 AM IST

The Enforcement Directorate's investigation into Mahadev Online Book's illegal online betting activities has revealed that co-promoter Sourabh Chandrakar sponsored an IIFA event in Dubai. The investigation also uncovered the promoters' investments in real estate, cryptocurrency, and stocks, as well as their use of shell firms to divert money. The ED has provisionally attached assets worth over ₹99 crore in the UAE. Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has been mentioned in the chargesheet, but not as an accused. The MOB earns around ₹450 crore per month from its activities.

MUMBAI: The Enforcement Directorate (ED)’s money-laundering investigation into Mahadev Online Book (MOB)’s illegal online betting activities has revealed that the platform’s Dubai-based co-promoter, Sourabh Chandrakar sponsored an IIFA event in Dubai recently. Chandrakar’s close aide Nitish Diwan, who had allegedly worked closely with him from 2020 to 2023, gave this information to the ED.

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HT Image

In his statement recorded by the ED on November 5/6 last year, Diwan claimed that a “company named Sportsbuzz was established in Chandrakar’s name in Dubai and he sponsored IIFA through this company”. ED sources said the agency is verifying Diwan’s claims.

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Diwan’s statement is part of the ED’s second case chargesheet, which was submitted to a special court in Raipur on December 20 last year against five accused—MOB co-promoter Subham Soni, MOB partner Anil Agrawal, MOB manager Rohit Gulati, MOB courier Asim Das and a Chhattisgarh police constable Bhim Yadav. MOB’s alleged co-promoters Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal are under 24/7 surveillance and detention, respectively, in Dubai and are awaiting their extradition to India.

Diwan’s witness statement also gave a peek into how the MOB promoters used their earnings to invest in real estate in India and the UAE, and crypto currency and stocks among other business avenues. The ED recently provisionally attached assets worth over 99 crore in the UAE, including a flat and a plot, which were identified as proceeds of crime, as reported by HT on December 27.

“Sourabh Chandrakar had formed a company named Perfect Plan Investment LLC in Dubai and had purchased properties through it,” Diwan told the ED. “The earnings from online betting operations were being utilised by the promoters in purchase of these assets. Chandrakar had also purchased other benami assets out of his earnings from the betting business.”

According to Diwan, Chandrakar allegedly opened a Binance account in his name to trade in crypto currency; there were multiple other Binance accounts opened by the MOB promoters for the same purpose. According to Diwan, the MOB incorporated multiple shell firms in Dubai to facilitate visa services for their staff working for them and to divert money. A 3,500-strong staff was in Dubai to work for MOB, whose job it was to man call centres to coordinate / help an estimated 2,000 branches / panels, and at least 20 villas were hired to accommodate some of them.

According to Diwan, he was a part of MOB‘s Dubai-based head office team in Dubai that oversaw its activities. He was sent to Zimbabwe in October 2021 by MOB to inspect a problem afflicting the local team there. The ED probe revealed that an accused, Vikash Chhapria, who allegedly handled MOB‘s investment funds, invested heavily in the Indian stock market under the foreign portfolio investment route via three entities—Perfect Plan Investment LLC, Techpro IT Solutions LLC and Exim General Trading-FZCO.

The ED chargesheet also made a few references to former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, though he has not been named as an accused in the agency’s chargesheets. An alleged MOB courier, Asim Das, told the ED that he was tasked by the Dubai-based MOB promoters to deliver cash to Baghel and the then ruling party for election expenses last November. The ED arrested Das on November 2 last year.

The ED had also told the Raipur special court that a case accused, Shubham Soni, allegedly made an allegation in his email sent to the agency on November 2 that “regular bribe payments have been made in the past, and so far around 508 crore have been paid by Mahadev App promoters to Bhupesh Baghel, chief minister of Chhattisgarh”. The ED has said that Soni’s allegations “need to be independently verified” by it. The ED had also arrested Chhattisgarh police constable Bhim Yadav, who allegedly handled MOB ‘s monetary transactions to pay off senior government officials and politicians.

The chargesheet also stated that another case accused, Chhattisgarh assistant sub-inspector Chandrabhushan Verma, who was named in the ED’s first chargesheet of October 2023, in a fresh statement given to it on December 14 last year said that he had been allegedly “pressurised by the then state government to file a retraction and save” a group of seven persons including Vijay Bhatia, Ashish Verma and Manish Banchor. In his statement given to the ED on August 22, 2023, Verma had alleged that Bhatia was a friend of Baghel while Ashish and Banchor were then Officers on Special Duty to the then chief minister of Chhattisgarh.

When contacted about the ED chargesheet, ED’s special public prosecutor Dr Saurabh Kumar Pandey said, “The agency is probing the revelations made by Nitish Diwan, Asim Das and Subham Soni. If required, appropriate steps will be taken. Ex-CM Bhupesh Baghel has not been summoned yet. The probe is on and if required, anyone can be called in to give a statement under the provisions of the PMLA.”

Baghel had earlier dubbed these charges as an attempt to “malign” his image while the Congress termed it “vendetta politics” by the Centre.

The MOB began its operations in 2019-20 but its reach among users saw a huge increase during the pandemic and continued to grow since then. The ED made its first arrests in the case in August this year by nabbing four persons in Chhattisgarh, including assistant sub-inspector Verma. The MOB branches and its head office work on a 30:70 profit-sharing ratio. According to the ED, MOB earns around 450 crore per month from its activities.

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