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ED says Chhattisgarh govt officers created ‘benami’ assets in coal levy ‘scam’; attaches assets

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NEW DELHI, Dec 10 (PTI): Top Chhattisgarh government bureaucrats including chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s deputy secretary Saumya Chaurasia and IAS officer Sameer Vishnoi and some coal traders allegedly linked to them “used” their relatives to create “benami” assets, the ED said on Saturday as it attached their properties worth more than Rs 150 crore.

The federal probe agency, in a statement, alleged that a “grand conspiracy” was hatched in the natural resources-rich state to perpetrate a coal levy ‘scam’ in which Rs 540 crore has been “extorted” over the last two years.

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The ED launched a money laundering investigation into the alleged scam in October after it raided Vishnoi, an Indian Administrative Service officer of the 2009 batch who was working as the CEO of the Chhattisgarh Infotech Promotion Society (Chips). He had earlier served as the director of the geology and mining department and was the MD of Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) during the incumbent Congress government led by chief minister Baghel.

It had undertaken multi-city raids in Chhattisgarh where it also covered the premises of the “main kingpin of the scam” Suryakant Tiwari, his relatives and a few other coal traders.

The federal probe agency issued a provisional order for the attachment of some movable and 91 immovable properties like flats, jewellery, coal washeries and plots belonging to the accused in the case, on Friday under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The assets are worth a total Rs 152.31 crore, the Enforcement Directorate said.

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The frozen assets include 65 properties belonging to Suryakant Tiwari, 21 properties of Chaurasia, a powerful bureaucrat of the state administrative service posted in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), and five assets of Vishnoi apart from that of another coal businessman of Chhattisgarh, Sunil Agarwal and some others.

These include, the ED said, agriculture lands measuring 63.38 acres in Hirri, Potiya and Sevati in Durg district, agriculture lands measuring 10 acres in Rasni and Arang in Raipur and commercial land measuring 12 acres in Thakuraintola (Durg district) and some farmhouses.

All these four people, apart from another businessman Laxmikant Tiwari (uncle of Suryakant Tiwari), have been arrested by the ED in the case.

The money laundering case stems from an Income Tax department complaint that was registered following raids by the taxman in June.

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The ED investigation relates to “a massive scam in which an illegal levy of Rs 25 was being extorted for every tonne of coal transported in Chhattisgarh by a cartel involving senior bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and middlemen”, the agency has said.

The probe found, it said, an amount of at least Rs 540 crore has been “extorted” in the last two years.

“ED has analysed thousands of handwritten diary entries. ED has not merely relied on the diary entries but has done a detailed investigation including bank account analysis, analysis of seized WhatsApp chats, recording of the statements (of about 100 individuals), etc. to corroborate the diary entries.

“ED has unravelled the modus operandi where influential members of the extortion syndicate like Suryakant Tiwari, Saumya Chaurasia, Sameer Vishnoi, etc. have used their relatives to create benami assets,” it alleged.

Land deals were done at minimum cheque amounts and large amounts of cash out of the extortion collection were infused to buy the assets, it said.

According to law, ‘benami’ assets mean any property which is the subject matter of a benami transaction and includes the proceeds from such property. In a “benami transaction”, a property is transferred to or is held by a person and the consideration for such property is provided, or paid by, another person. The property is held for the immediate or future benefit of the person who has paid for it.

The agency found most of the ‘benamidaars’ (in whose name benami property is standing) did not even have the minimum capital to do the land deals.

“Then small unsecured loans were taken from multiple people on payment of cash to create capital to do land deals.

“Further, after the IT raids on June 30, in a panic to avoid attachment by IT/ED, a large number of assets were sold to  Sunil Agarwal as he was not covered in the IT searches,” the ED said adding hence it attached the assets to prevent “alienation” of the tainted assets.

The agency called Suryakant Tiwari the “main henchman” at the ground level who deployed his employees in various regions to extort money from coal transporters and industrialists and his team was physically coordinating with lower-level government functionaries and coal transporters and representatives of user companies.

“Since his employees were spread across the state, they maintained WhatsApp groups, excel sheets of each coal delivery order and the extorted amounts and shared them with Suryakant Tiwari, who in turn maintained detailed handwritten diaries of the incoming bribe amounts and their utilisation for purchase of benami lands, payment of bribes, payments for political expenditure, etc.”

“This kind of systemic extortion was not possible without the knowledge and active participation of the state machinery,” it said.

The fact that it (alleged extortion racket) ran uninterrupted without a single FIR and collected around Rs 500 crore in two years, clearly indicates that all the accused persons were acting in a concerted manner at the instructions of person(s) at the highest level, having command and control over the state machinery, the ED said.

 

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