The Enforcement Directorate seized more than Rs 17 crore in cash on Saturday after raiding the promoters of a Kolkata-based mobile gaming app company as part of a money-laundering investigation, according to official sources.
According to the sources, the agency is looking into some “political connections” of the app promoters and wants to determine the true beneficiaries of this money, even as it investigates the possible routing of funds spent by gullible gamers here through some “Chinese-controlled” entities.
Multiple bundles of Rs 500 currency notes, as well as some in the denominations of Rs 2,000, Rs 200, and Rs 100, were stacked together on a bed depicting the ED abbreviation, according to a photograph released by the federal agency.
According to official sources, the cash was recovered from a premise in Kolkata’s Garden Reach neighbourhood with the address ‘F 7.N A Khan.’
The ED was looking for the alleged prime accused in the case, Aamir Khan, who was not found at the raided premises.
Even as large steel trunks in a truck arrived at the site by evening, agency officials pressed in five note-counting machines and brought bank staff to determine the exact value of the cash haul.
The ED stated in a statement that its searches were carried out at a half-dozen locations associated with the gaming app “E-Nuggets” and its promoter, Aamir Khan, among others.
CRPF personnel escorted the ED teams in and around the West Bengal capital, including Garden Reach, Park Street, and Mominpur.
So far, more than Rs 17 crore in cash has been discovered at the said premises, and sleuths were completing seizure procedures until 9:30 p.m., according to official sources.
The ED seized approximately Rs 50 crore in cash, jewellery, and gold after raiding premises linked to Arpita Mukherjee, an alleged aide of former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee, around 2:30 p.m., according to a statement issued by the agency around 2:30 p.m.
The agency arrested both of them.
The raids sparked a new spat between West Bengal’s ruling TMC and the BJP.
Firhad Hakim, a senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) minister and Kolkata Mayor, claimed that the TMC had nothing to do with the businessman in question, but that the Centre was attempting to drive away investors from the state by instilling fear of “harassment” by federal agencies.
The BJP denied the charge, claiming that the raids were only conducted against unethical businessmen, and asked the TMC leader if he had anything to hide.
Hakim wondered if the ED’s investigations into money laundering cases are limited to non-BJP-ruled states like West Bengal.
“If Rs 7 crore has been discovered, the source of that money must be investigated.” But what about Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who cheated the government out of over Rs 7000 crore? Why wasn’t their wrongdoing exposed before they left (India)? “
“These are businessmen from BJP-ruled states who may have amassed large sums of money,” he said.
“Does that mean that the raids will be directed selectively against businessmen from non-BJP-ruled states like Bengal? It is to deter investors from coming to Bengal for fear of harassment by central agencies,” a senior TMC leader claimed.
In response to Hakim’s remarks, BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya stated that such statements are made out of fear because people are aware of the “unholy nexus” between money launderers and the TMC.
“The ED raid is not aimed at the business community as a whole.” It only applies to unscrupulous businessmen. Is the former state transport minister hiding something?” Bhattacharya continued.
The money laundering case stems from a FIR filed in February 2021 by the Kolkata Police against the company and its promoters.
According to the ED, this FIR was filed at the Park Street Police Station in response to a complaint filed by Federal Bank officials in a Kolkata court.
According to the agency, Aamir Khan, the son of businessman Nesar Ahmed Khan, launched the mobile gaming application E-Nuggets with the intent of defrauding the public.
“During the initial period, users were rewarded with a commission and their wallet balance could be withdrawn without difficulty.”
“This gave users initial confidence, and they began investing larger amounts for a higher percentage of commission and a higher number of purchase orders,” it said.
The ED stated that after collecting a “handsome amount” from the public, withdrawal from the said app was abruptly halted under various pretexts, including system upgrades and investigations by law enforcement agencies.
Later, all data on the app servers, including profile information, was deleted. According to the ED, the users were aware of the ruse.
According to official sources, the agency is investigating whether this app and its operators were linked to other “Chinese controlled” apps that were issuing loans at exorbitant rates to gullible people, with many loan takers committing suicide after being threatened by these loan operators to pay up.
The Income-tax Department raided a Mumbai-based group engaged in online cricket betting and gaming in February, putting the operations of online gaming businesses under scrutiny.
CBDT Chairman Nitin Gupta recently told PTI that the department discovered that approximately 8 million players were registered with this gaming portal, with gross earnings of Rs 58,000 crore detected in this case over the last three years.
Soon after the raids, the CBDT issued a statement stating that the department discovered a “cash” turnover of Rs 600 crore made by the company in six months.
According to official sources, all of the transactions and earnings in the Mumbaiu case were not reported to the tax authorities.