The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has frozen or seized assets worth ₹417 crore following searches at 39 locations in different parts of the country in connection with the investigation against Mahadev Online Book betting app.
The agency said the app was an umbrella syndicate that arranged online platforms for enabling illegal betting websites to enrol new users, create IDs and launder money through a layered web of “benami” bank accounts.
Operations run from Dubai
Based on the findings, the ED recently cracked down on the “money laundering” networks linked to the app in cities such as Kolkata, Bhopal, and Mumbai. It found that Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, who hail from Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, were allegedly the main promoters of Mahadev Online Book and were running their operations from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The accused were franchising “panel/branches” to their known associates on 70%-30% profit ratio. “Large scale hawala operations are done to siphon off the proceeds of betting to off-shore accounts. Large expenditure in cash is also being done in India for advertising betting websites…to attract new users and franchise [panel] seekers,” it said.
Earlier, the ED had also carried out searches in Chhattisgarh and arrested four accused persons, including the chief liaisoner of the betting syndicate which was organising payment of the bribes to senior government functionaries as “protection” money.
₹200 crore spent for marriage ceremony
Subsequent investigation revealed that the two main accused had created an empire for themselves in the UAE. “The sudden and illegal riches are being openly flaunted by them. In February 2023, Mr. Chandrakar got married at RAK [Ras Al-Khaimah], UAE, and for this marriage ceremony the promoters of Mahadev app spent around ₹200 crore in cash. Private jets were hired to ferry family members from Nagpur to the UAE,” the agency said.
It further alleged that celebrities were hired to perform in the wedding and planners, dancers and decorators were brought in from Mumbai. The accused used ‘hawala’ channels to make payments in cash. “As per the digital evidence gathered by the ED, ₹112 crore was delivered via ‘hawala’ to an events management company in the name of R-1 Events Pvt. Ltd. of Yogesh Popat and hotel bookings costing ₹42 crore were done by paying in cash, in AEDs [UAE Dirhams],” said the ED.
The agency also searched the premises of Mr. Popat, one Mithilesh and some other associated organisers, unearthing evidence showing alleged receipt of ₹112 crore of “hawala” money. Then, searches were carried out against the “hawala” operators, and ₹2.37 crore seized.
According to the ED, Rapid Travels (Bhopal) of Dheeraj Ahuja and Vishal Ahuja had managed the entire ticketing operations of the app promoters, their family members, business associates and even the celebrities who were endorsing betting websites such as fairplay.com, reddy anna and Mahadev app.
It alleged that the Ahuja brothers deposited the cash earnings with the main ticket providers and the wallet balance was used to book domestic and international tickets. “Rapid Travels was involved in making travel arrangements for most events of the Mahadev group, including the annual star-studded events organised in the UAE in September,” the ED said.
The agency then zeroed in on Kolkata-based Vikash Chhaparia who allegedly handled the “hawala” related operations for the app. His premises and those of his associates, including one Govid Kedia, were searched. As it turned out, with the help of Mr. Kedia, Mr. Chhaparia was investing heavily in the Indian stock market via Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) route, through his entities: Perfect Plan Investments LLP, Exim General Trading FZCO and Techpro IT Solutions LLC, as alleged.
“Accordingly, cash derivative and other security holdings worth ₹2,36.3 crore in the name of entities beneficially owned by Vikash Chhaparia have been frozen by the ED…further, assets worth ₹160 crore in DEMAT holdings of Kedia have also been frozen…,” said the ED.
Earlier, the agency had seized ₹18 lakh in cash and jewellery/gold worth ₹13 crore from Mr. Kedia’s premises.
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