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How the Chhattisgarh poor fell for IAS man’s money laundering scheme

A senior bureaucrat had set up fake bank accounts to launder crores of rupees using names of 446 people in Chhattisgarh

india Updated: Oct 15, 2017 14:25 IST
Ritesh Mishra
Ritesh Mishra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Chattisgarh,Money laundering,Money laundering scheme
Babulal Yadav says his biggest regret is getting a PAN card in the late 1990s that was allegedly used by a middleman to set up the bogus bank account.(HT Photo)

For about a decade, life has been hell for 42-year-old Babulal Yadav.

The differently abled landless labourer in a desperately poor corner of Chhattisgarh has made countless trips to the local police station, answered questions by several investigators and lived in fear of random searches on his small shanty just outside the market in Kharora, around 50km from Raipur.

The irony: Yadav is not accused of any crime or conspiracy. He is one of 446 people, mostly poor carpenters, farmers and vendors, in whose name a senior state bureaucrat is accused of setting up fake bank accounts to allegedly launder crores of rupees.

Yadav has instructed his wife to not talk to inquisitive outsiders and the family of six spends its nights uneasily. His biggest regret is getting a PAN card in the late 90s that was allegedly used by a middleman to set up the bogus account.

“When I go out, people taunt me with shouts of ‘crorepati’ ‘crorepati’ but I am a poor man…many days I don’t even get any work,” he said. HT spoke to 10 other villagers who said they have been called multiple times for interrogation and recording of statements.

The trouble began in 2006 when charges surfaced against IAS officer BL Agrawal of having allegedly colluded with middlemen and bank officials to open accounts in the names of villagers, and laundering money through them.

Agrawal was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation this February and also booked by the Enforcement Directorate.

“During 2006-08, Agrawal with the help of Sunil Agrawal, a CA, opened 446 benami bank accounts in the name of poor villagers… none of the account holders came to the bank in person…the drivers, mason, paan vendors, farm labourers, carpenters, milk vendors denied opening or operating the accounts,” ED statement reads.

The case was first investigated by the state economic offence wing (EOW), then the ED and now the matter has been transferred to the Chhattisgarh police. At each stage, villagers say they were called. “We are facing trouble…. everyone thinks we are thieves when police come to our homes,” said Guhe Ram, a farmer.

Both BL Agrawal and Sunil Agarwal are out on bail and deny the charges. “The case is in court and I don’t know about the case registered by the Raipur police. I am not related to Kharora or the case registered by the police,” said BL Agrawal. Police said the FIR didn’t name him because the money-laundering section was being probed separately by the ED. Sunil Agrawal could not be contacted for a comment.

The police admit that the villagers have battled a tough time without committing any crime.

“We understand their pain and the problems but we are working as per law… the residents of Kharora are the witnesses of the crime hence there statement was taken,” said additional superintendent of police (Raipur) Vijay Agarwal.

The ASP added that the matter is yet to be heard by the court. “We will put up the challan and then the witnesses will be again called by the court, which is the process which everyone will have to follow. Everything is going as per the law.”

But Babulal doesn’t understand such processes. He alleges that Sunil Agarwal, who was a trader in Kharora, asked him for some documents to get a PAN card made. “I thought PAN card is important and hence gave it but later came to know that they opened fake accounts in my name,” he said.

Others said every time they are summoned, they have to spend ₹300 travelling to Raipur – a big sum in one of India’s most under-developed regions.

“We will demand compensation in future…the torture we have faced is immense,” said Tikeshwar Pansari, a small grocery shop owner.

But deep down, they know that the hard times will continue because the case is now in court. The police have told villagers that they would need to come to court at least twice, a number that could easily go up if the case dragged on. “We know we will be called by the court. We are trapped now,” said Baburam.