Kolkata: The chit fund scam in West Bengal is getting bigger with market regulator Sebi turning the heat on over a dozen other companies running similar Ponzi schemes. People are rushing to withdraw Rs 20,000 crore invested in these companies.
Sebi has asked the government to look into the operations of all these companies. One such company is the Rose Valley Group, which has now approached West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking protection.
Its chairman Goutam Kundu wrote to the CM on April 23 saying that the group has assets worth Rs 10,000 crore and that his depositors were not at risk. Sebi has been trying for years to shut down Rose Valley but in vain.
The market regulator also has its eyes on MPS Greenery Developers, but the local courts had stayed Sebi's order. But with the spotlight now on these chit funds and the Trinamool Congress facing fire for their negligence, it is unlikely that Mamata Banerjee will bail them out.
Meanwhile, Saradha group promoter Sudipta Sen and two others accused in the West Bengal chit fund scam went through the primary investigation on Thursday. The police has seized mobiles and laptops from the three accused. According to the police, six cases have been filed against Sen, out of which four have been filed by employees who did not receive their salaries.
The other two cases were related to money marketing schemes of Saradha Tours and Saradha Realty. The police also said that seven directors of the company will be probed.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has also registered a money laundering case against Saradha group. More big names entered the fray in the chit fund scam on Thursday. These included a West Bengal Congress MP and Finance Minister P Chidambaram's wife Nalini Chidambaram who was reportedly engaged as a senior advocate to close a Saradha deal.
The Congress MP from Malda, AHK Chowdhury, reportedly wrote a letter in March 2013 to PM, vouching for Saradha group and urging the PM to keep Saradha Realty 'outside the purview of the Reserve Bank of India' because it was 'not a chit fund, microfinance or Non-Banking Finance Deposit Company'.
CNN-IBN has accessed the letter. The letter was in direct contrast to a previous letter written by him in which he demands action against the company.
Chowdhury, however, later sought to defend himself saying the whole affair was a case of mistaken identity, though not clearly completely clarifying what really happened. "In my previous note, I had made some errors. It was a mistaken identity and I would be sued, so I had to change my opinion... I mistook Sudipta to be someone else... I met Sudipta only six months after my second letter," he said.
The Trinamool Congress hit out at the Congress demanding that it must clarify on the involvement of two of its party members in the scam.
Sudipta Sen, who was brought to Kolkata late on Wednesday night on a 4-day transit remand, was produced in court on Thursday along with two others arrested from Sonmarg in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday. Sources say six trunks full of deeds mentioned in Sudipta Sen's letter to the CBI have been seized. Sen's cook Hemanta Pradhan, who was made a director in one of his companies, has also been questioned.
In his explosive letter to the CBI, Sen said he was forced into media by TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose who runs the Pratidin media group. Many high profile names were mentioned in the letter, including those of top TMC politicians, lawyers and journalists.
Earlier on Wednesday when the details of an explosive letter written by Sudipta Sen to the CBI were made public, a round of blame game between the TMC and Left Front took place. Sen in the latter alleged that he was forced into the media business by TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose who run the Pratidin media group. He also said that he was neither liable nor had the money to refund investors.
Through the letter, Sen made himself out to be the victim of a larger conspiracy and not the accused. Sen claimed in his letter that he was used and abused by brokers and politicians in raking in money from investors. What's surprising was that he detailed the scam, but claimed innocence in the face of all allegations saying his signatures and seal were used.
In his letter, Sen said he was forced to enter into the media business as he was being threatened by TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose who run the Pratidin media group. He said he was forced to pay Rs 60 lakhs to Pratidin for content and 15 lakhs per month to Kunal Ghosh. From 2011 to 2013, Sen said to have paid nearly Rs 20 crore to the TMC MPs. In return these TMC MPs would offer protection from the State and Centre and exclusive access to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
TMC MP Kunal Ghosh allegedly wanted him to sell Channel 10 to him for Rs 55 lakhs which he refused and eventually the deal was sealed for Rs 24 crore. What's more, Sen named top political leaders and lawyers with links to high profile politicians who would ensure smooth sailing for all his business ventures.
He claimed to have paid middleman to settle his case and influence the Sebi as well. He also claimed he was asked to pay Rs 25 crores to set up a North East channel through a lawyer in return for political protection.
One of the TMC MPs named in the letter, Srinjoy Bose defended himself on Wednesday saying his links with the Saradha group were completely professional. He sad there was no proximity between Mamata and the Saradha group.