SFIOs Saradha probe hits Bengal barricade

Written by Santosh Tiwari | New Delhi | Updated: May 20 2013, 08:03am hrs
The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) is facing difficulties in probe into collapsed chit fund company Saradha Group as the West Bengal government authorities allegedly have not been cooperating with the central agency in relaying information and have been using delaying tactics to disrupt and stall the interrogation of the main accused in the case.

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Sources said SFIO officials were finding it difficult to interrogate the top functionaries of Saradha since the time it was handed over the case by the ministry of corporate affairs. The state police have handed over their report on the Saradha collapse to the West Bengal home department, they said, adding, the department hasnt passed on any critical information to the SFIO.

Saradha group CMD Sudipta Sen and executive director Debjani Mukherjee have been under arrest and questioned by the West Bengal police. Mukherjees cooperation in the investigation has put pressure on Sen to disclose all details about the companys functioning but the SFIO has been clueless on the critical bank account details and company structure of Saradha, obtained by the state authorities. Sen has now been sent to judicial custody as the police didnt press for extension of police custody.

Though the West Bengal police succeeded in collecting critical details from the two, central agencies SFIO and Enforcement Directorate, which has also joined the probe, are unable to make any major headway in their investigation.

While the Securities and Exchange Board of India had failed to garner details about the money collected by Saradha and also the depositors, documents seized by the West Bengal authorities indicate that the company had collected R2,100 crore and that the company had paid over R500 crore to pay 35% commission to agents.

The SFIO is headquartered in Delhi and it has offices in Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. With an office in Kolkata now, the agency has planned to prepare a fresh list of companies collecting deposits from investors to be investigated in West Bengal. The exercise is slated to cover the whole country against the backdrop of the collapse of the Saradha Group.

Earlier, the ministry of corporate affairs had entrusted the SFIO with the job of probing 87 companies running Ponzi scheme across the country. Interestingly, the list was given by the minister of state (independent charge) for corporate affairs, Sachin Pilot, in reply to a Lok Sabha question on March 14. The list had 73 companies from West Bengal and it included a number of Saradha entities, besides Rose Valley and others.

The corporate affairs ministry has failed to go beyond the preparation of this list and has constituted a steering committee to develop a fraud prediction model aimed at generating alerts for prevention of fraud and malfeasance.

In the aftermath of the Saradha fiasco, the market research & analysis unit in the SFI O is also being strengthened to function as an intelligence unit.