The conditional release of Vandana Bhargava, director at Sahara India, by the Supreme Court in March 2014, has yielded rich dividends for the enforcement sleuths. Bhargava, the only director allowed to assist in depositing Rs 10,000 crore with market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) to bail out the group’s jailed chief Subrata Roy, has disclosed all details pertaining to 4,500 bank accounts spread across the country that might have a direct link to the massive Rs 24,000 crore of allegedly laundered funds.
Bhargava made the disclosure during her questioning by Enforcement Directorate (ED) last week. Sources said she was interrogated for more than eight hours. Also, ED officials said a few banks have acted as ‘facilitator’ in transferring money abroad. The directorate has already initiated against action against two private banks for this under Foreign Exchange Management Act.
When contacted Sahara Group spokesperson did not respond on the statement made by Bhargava. Sources were told that each of the 4,500 bank accounts disclosed by Bhargava has over a thousand transactions.
“We are anticipating some vital clues out of this,” a senior ED official told dna.
ED is likely to outsource the accounting interpretation to an external audit firm or agency to trace the origin and end of money routed through these accounts, the officials said. In her statement, Bhargava said she is no longer associated with any of the Sahara entities nor involved in this case and was “forced” to become a director by Roy.
However, a company source said Bhargava continues to be on board and is actively involved in the day-to-day activities of the group companies.
ED officials believe that being a close part of largely unlisted company, Bhargava is aware of all the malpractices that went on there. ED had registered a case against Sahara group in November 2014 under Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Sources said, of the total scam money, ED has been able to unearth Rs 3,600 crore in alleged money laundering, which is one-eighth of the scam money raised by two group firms, Sahara India Real Estate Corp Ltd and Sahara India Housing Investment Corp Ltd.
According to sources, the trail has established that the group has diverted some funds to the US, and the UK in 2010. Sahara owns controlling stakes in New York City’s Plaza Hotel and Dream Downtown and London’s Grosvenor House hotel.
“Rs 8,000 crore has been already seized by Sebi. We are looking at the remaining Rs 17,000 crore,” said an ED source.
If the bank accounts establish money laundering, the ED sleuths may also seize the group’s hotels in the UK and the US. “But this can be done only on the basis of strong evidences,” said an official.
“The seizure of properties overseas has it own course of action. We need to send letter rogatory (LR) to the respective countries for judicial assistance,” said the ED source.
The group, facing charges of money laundering, had been under the lens of investigating agencies for long until Sebi finally nailed its chief Subrato Roy in March last year and got him behind bars along with two directors Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary. This followed the strict instruction by Sebi to refund the money raised from around three crore investors, which could not be complied by the group for want of money.
The apex court granted conditional bail to Roy and others for a deposit of Rs 10,000 crore. The case has since been an unprecedented one as never before such a huge amount was sought for bail. The fact that no investors have so far come forward to lodge a complaint have made many legal experts believe that all transactions were fictitious and involved money laundering.
Since August 2014, Roy has been trying to sell some of his hotel properties to raise the bail money. Sahara is said to be in discussions with several investors to dispose of its overseas hotels and other assets.