Odisha EOW alleges ₹50 cr loan fraud by newspaper owned by Soumya Patnaik
The Odisha EOW alleged that Odisa newspaper Sambad had run a meticulously organised loan scam in which at least ₹50 crore loan was taken from various banks using forged salary certificates of its employees
The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Odisha Police has claimed that Odia newspaper Sambad, owned and edited by media baron Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, had run a “meticulously organised loan scam” in which at least ₹50 crore loan was taken from various banks using forged salary certificates of its employees.
The EOW raided the office of Sambad on Monday. The development came within a week after the Biju Janata Dal removed Patnaik from the post of vice-president following a factional feud in the party.
The EOW investigation into the Odia daily started after Ashim Mohapatra, a former employee of the daily lodged a complaint last week under Indian Penal Code 506, 467, 468, 471, 420, and 120 B.
A senior EOW official said that the head of the human resources (HR) and the chief operating officer (COO) of Sambad were interrogated.
“Almost all loan processes followed the same pattern. ₹5 lakh loan was sanctioned to the employees under easy money loan scheme of the bank on grounds like house/house repair. Forged salary certificate were submitted by Sambad. There was a huge difference between actual salary and the salary certificate produced by Sambad. It appears that loan forms have been prepared/filled by someone else and employee put his signature though they did not receive a single penny,”the officer said.
“Once loan was sanctioned, the amount used to be withdrawn in cash. The EMI to be paid was almost equal to the net salary of employees. Some employees have been forced to take loan 2-3 times too. The EMIs were paid by Sambad in 60 instalments. In many cases, EMIs were paid by Sambad even though employees resigned. Getting loan sanctioned in this style has been a continuing phenomenon for years for the organisation. The pattern seems not to be just one instance or coincidence but a well thought of conspiracy and organised bank fraud. The actual figure would be much higher,” the officer added.
More than 350 Sambad employees have taken loan from Odisha Gramya Bank, IRC Village branch in Bhubaneswar alone over the last few years, EOW officials said. Loan taken from other banks like SBI and others are yet to be scrutinised, they added.
Rebutting the allegations, Sambad in a statement said there is no truth in the allegations levelled against it. “The timing of the complaint raises serious questions regarding the intent of the complainant. Sambad Group believes that the entire episode is a clear case of political vendetta and an attack on the freedom of press. The Sambad Group is committed to extend its cooperation to the agency in future as it has nothing to hide in connection with the case,” added the statement.
Since last few month, Patnaik has been attacking VK Pandian, chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s private secretary, comparing his tour expenses to all the districts with the Chandrayaan 3 mission. Last month in a front-page editorial of Sambad, Patnaik said while ₹600 crore was spent on ISRO’s Chandrayaan 3, similar expenses may have been incurred for Pandian’s visit to all the 30 districts in the state over last 6 months.
He also drew comparison between Pandian’s behaviour with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s secretary Yashpal Kapoor stating that in June 1975, the Allahabad high court had declared Indira Gandhi’s election invalid as Kapoor had helped in election work and given political speech. He also targeted chief minister Patnaik saying that the latter thought all his ministers as incapable of getting his work done and that is why he was giving the assignments to his private secretary.
Mocking his removal from the post of vice-president last week, Patnaik said his removal order with Naveen Patnaik’s signature could be forged.
After the EOW case, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleged that dictatorship prevailed in the state. “The freedom of the press was jeopardised during the time of emergency. A similar kind of situation is now prevailing in the state. A secretary is giving assurances to people to fulfill their demands by visiting various parts of the state like a king. There is no provision like this in democracy. When someone criticised the government through his editorials, cases are being foisted on him,” said senior BJP leader Prithviraj Harichandan.
However, the BJD claimed that everything is being done as per the provision in law. “Nothing has been done to choke the voice of media. Raids are not conducted by keeping a grudge against anybody. The EOW raid was conducted as per the provision in law,” said revenue minister Pramila Mallik.