The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is investigating money laundering projected to be over Rs 5,000 crore in connection with the Mahadev online gambling app, said Sourabh Chandrakar – one of its two kingpins – spent a whopping Rs 200 crore on his lavish wedding in the UAE where his family members arrived in private jets from Nagpur. As per the central agency, they have seized cash and properties collectively worth Rs 417 crore, bought using proceeds of the crime.
The ED began its probe into the case earlier this year and arrested four people last month. Its investigation has revealed that Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, who hail from Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, are the main promoters of Mahadev Online Book and run their operations from Dubai.
A press note from the ED reads, “Sourabh Chandrakar & Ravi Uppal have created an empire for themselves in the UAE. The sudden & illegal riches are being openly flaunted by them. In February 2023, Sourabh Chandrakar got married at RAK (Ras Al-Khaimah), UAE, and for this marriage ceremony, the promoters of Mahadev APP spent around Rs 200 crore in cash. Private jets were hired to ferry family members from Nagpur to UAE. Celebrities were hired to perform in the marriage. Wedding planners, dancers, decorators etc were hired from Mumbai and hawala channels were used to make payments in cash.”
So far, the ED has conducted searches at 39 locations across Raipur, Bhopal, Mumbai and Kolkata and has seized illegal assets worth Rs 417 crore. The agency is also in the process of issuing Red Corner Notices (RCN) against Chandrakar and Uppal, the two kingpins, and a Special PMLA Court in Raipur has also issued non-bailable warrants against absconding suspects in order to get RCNs issued against them.
An ED official said, “Their M/s Mahadev Online Book is run from a central head office in UAE and operates by 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 the betting websites and self-aggrandisement is necessary to attract new users and franchise (panel) seekers.
Money laundering trail unearthed so far
As per the digital evidence gathered by the ED, Rs 112 crore was delivered via hawala to an event management company in the name of M/s R-1 Events Pvt Ltd of Yogesh Popat, and hotel bookings worth Rs 42 crore were done by paying in cash in UAE Dirhams.
Searches were conducted by the ED on the premises of Popat, one Mithilesh and other linked organisers, and evidence relating to the receipt of Rs 112 crore hawala money has been gathered. Subsequently, searches were conducted on the angadias named by Popat.
The raids resulted in the seizure of unaccounted cash of Rs 2.37 crore. It is found that many celebrities have been endorsing these betting entities and performing at their functions in return for hefty fees layered through dubious transactions but ultimately paid from the proceeds of online betting.
The ED also conducted searches on M/s Rapid Travels of Dheeraj Ahuja and Vishal Ahuja in Bhopal. This entity was responsible for the entire ticketing operations of Mahadev APP promoters, family, business associates and even for the celebrities who were endorsing betting websites like fairplay.com, reddy anna APP, Mahadev APP.
The illicit cash earnings from the betting panels were cleverly deposited by Ahuja brothers with main ticket providers, and the wallet balance was used to book domestic and international tickets, the probe revealed. M/s Rapid Travels was involved in making travel arrangements for most events of Mahadev group, including annual star-studded events organised in the UAE in September.
The ED has successfully identified other major players involved in the money laundering operations of the Mahadev Online Book APP. It was found that one Kolkata-based Vikash Chhaparia was handling all the hawala-related operations of Mahadev APP.
The agency conducted searches on his known premises and on premises linked to his associates like Govid Kedia. It was found that with Kedia’s help, Chaparia through his entities – M/s Perfect Plan Investments LLP, M/s Exim General Trading FZCO and M/s Techpro IT Solutions LLC – invested heavily in the Indian stock market through the Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) route. Accordingly, cash derivatives and other security holdings worth Rs 236.3 crore in the name of entities beneficially owned by Vikas Chhaparia were frozen by the ED under PMLA 2002.
Further, assets worth Rs 160 crore in DEMAT holdings of Govind Kedia have also been frozen under PMLA 2002. The searches on the premises of Kedia also resulted in the seizure of Indian currency of Rs 18 lakh, gold and jewellery valued at Rs 13 crore.