₹353 crore cash seized from IT raids on Odisha liquor firm - Hindustan Times
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353 crore cash seized from IT raids on Odisha liquor firm

ByDebabrata Mohanty
Dec 10, 2023 09:21 PM IST

According to officials familiar with the matter, this is the highest ever cash seizure in the history of income tax raid in the country

The income tax raids on an Odisha-based distillery group across three states has netted 353 crore of cash in five days, the highest ever cash seizure in the history of income tax raids in the country, officials said on Sunday.

Officials said the currency counting process was hit by frequent machine breakdowns as they were not equipped to operate non-stop.
Officials said the currency counting process was hit by frequent machine breakdowns as they were not equipped to operate non-stop.

By Sunday evening, officials of three branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) in Bolangir, Titlagarh and Sambalpur managed to count all the seized cash, deploying over 3 dozen counting machines and 80 officials. While 48.5 crore was counted in Sambalpur and Titlagarh branch of SBI, in Bolangir Main Branch of the bank at least 50 employees managed to count 305 crore using 25 counting machines as IT officials pushed them to finish the operation by midnight.

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“There were 176 bags of currency in the denomination of 100, 200 and 500 that was brought to the SBI Main Branch in Bolangir two days ago from the liquor company’s office in Sudapada locality of Bolangir town. Battling fatigue and machine breakdown, the staff have been busy counting throughout the day and night barring toilet breaks. The amount of cash the staff have counted in last 3 days is much more than what they would have done in a year,” said Bhagat Behera, regional manager of SBI Bolangir.

SBI officials said the counting process was hit by frequent machine breakdowns as they were not equipped to operate non-stop. “We had to keep 40 machines on stand-by as machines stopped working. Many of the currency notes stuck to each other due to mildew deposits and so we had to use dryers to separate the notes,” said an official, adding that there was no duplicate or 2,000 currency notes.

While the counting went on in the banks, the IT officials carried out further raids on country liquor breweries of Bunty Sahu and Rajesh Sahu who are close to the family members of Baldeo Sahu & Group of Companies that owns and operates a distillery plant in Odisha apart from several microbreweries. IT officials said they are interrogating Bunty Sahu and Rajesh Sahu to find out why so much cash was kept in Bolangir’s Sudapada area.

IT officials are also trying to find out the involvement of state excise officials as during the raids they found a polythene packet containing 5 lakh in currency notes with the name ‘Inspector Tiwari’ mentioned on the packet. “We think the person may either be from the exercise department or local police. We would interrogate officials from the excise department,” said an IT official.

Meanwhile, a special 20-member IT analysis team from Hyderabad joined the investigation to scan through the computer hard disk and other electronic items recovered during the raid.

Baldeo Sahu & Group of Companies which is a group company of Boudh Distilleries Private Limited, is linked to the Congress Rajya Sabha MP. His son Ritesh Sahu is the managing director, while elder brother Uday Shanker Prasad is the chairman of the company that manufactures extra neutral alcohol — a primary raw material for making alcoholic beverages. The former has other businesses, including Baldeo Sahu Infra Pvt Ltd (which makes fly ash bricks), Kwality Bottlers Pvt Ltd (an IMFL bottling unit), and Kishore Prasad Bijay Prasad Beverages Pvt Ltd engaged in the sale and marketing of different IMFL brands.

Meanwhile, politics over the record cash seizure hotted up with the BJP in Jharkhand staging protests at all district headquarters of the state demanding intervention of central probe agencies. “Corruption is in the DNA of the Congress. Congress leaders are engaged in the competition of corruption. The Congress must have kept this money for horse trading and resort politics after declaration of recently held elections results in three states,” said MLA C.P Singh demanding arrest of Congress MP Sahu.

State BJP spokesperson Shahdeo echoed the same. “ED and CBI should also come forward in this whole matter and MP Dheeraj Sahu should be strictly interrogated. When just one Congress MP has cash worth billions, then imagine how many trillions the entire party must have embezzled,” he said.

The demonstration was organised a day after state finance minister and Lohardaga MLA, Rameshwar Oraon, and JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya had taken strong exception to the BJP stand of politicising the issue of cash recovery from Sahu’s various locations in Jharkhand and Odisha before the official statement from the income tax department. They had termed IT’s action a ‘routine exercise’ and had asked the BJP to ‘practice patience’ in the matter.

Reacting to the BJP’s allegations, Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee executive president and state co-ordination committee member Bandhu Tirkey said the opposition was resorting to ‘petty politics’.

“The BJP has no right to guide income tax on what to do or not to do in the matter at the time when the IT department is in action. Dheeraj Sahu and his ancestors are well known for their association with business. Before any official statement from IT, it is not right from the part of the party and its state president Babulal Marandi to point fingers at the chief minister and regard it as a matter of corruption. The BJP, who could do nothing to people like Nirav Modi, has no right to raise alarm in such matters. This is nothing more than petty politics,” said Tirkey.

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