A “close confidant” of bureaucrat Saumya Chaurasia, two mining officers, and an alleged conman who impersonated as an ED officer are among the four people arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in the coal levy ‘scam’ of Chhattisgarh, an official statement said Saturday.
The ED arrested the four under the anti-money laundering law and a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Raipur and sent them to the agency’s custody till January 30, it said.
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The agency had conducted fresh raids in the case on January 13 in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, and Pune which led to these four arrests.
Among those arrested is Deepesh Taunk, who, the ED said, is a “close confidant” of Saumya Chaurasia, a deputy secretary in the office of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, and a key accused. The agency claimed Taunk was “knowingly involved in money laundering.”
Chaurasia was arrested in the matter last year after the ED raided multiple people in October, 2022 and arrested Sameer Vishnoi, an IAS officer of the state, and some businessmen.
The investigation relates to “a massive scam in which an illegal levy of Rs 25 was being extorted for every tonne of coal transported in Chhattisgarh by a cartel involving senior bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and middlemen,” the agency has alleged.
Two mining officers — Sandeep Kumar Nayak (posted in Surajpur) and Shiv Shankar Nag (working in Korba) — are also among those arrested this week and the agency alleged they “knowingly and willingly assisted the syndicate of Suryakant Tiwari (alleged main kingpin of the ‘scam’) in committing extortion and acquisition of the proceeds of crime.” The fourth to be arrested is Rajesh Chaudhary, allegedly a conman, who the ED said was “cheating people by claiming to work as a middleman to settle cases.” “ED investigation has established that close family members of Sunil Agarwal (an accused arrested by ED in this case in October last year and currently in judicial custody) were making desperate efforts to secure the release of Sunil Agarwal.
“This self-acclaimed ‘liaisoner’, got in touch with the relatives of Sunil Agarwal,” the ED said in a statement.
It said it was “discovered” during Chaudhary’s interrogation that he had created fake ID cards of being an ED officer and declared himself as an ED employee in several KYC documents submitted to banks.
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The agency also shared the picture of a fake ID card in which Chaudhary is alleged to have declared himself as “Manoj Kumar, Assistant Commissioner (ED).” The ED has made nine arrests till now in the case, including these four.
IAS officer Vishnoi, state administrative service officer Chaurasia, coal trader Suryakant Tiwari, his uncle Laxmikant Tiwari, and another coal businessman Sunil Agrawal were arrested last year.
The agency has alleged that a “grand conspiracy” was hatched in the natural resources rich state to perpetrate a coal levy ‘scam’ in which Rs 540 crore has been “extorted” over the last two years.
The money laundering case stems from an Income Tax department complaint that was registered following raids made by the department in June, 2022.
The agency has called Suryakant Tiwari the “main henchman” at the ground-level who deployed his employees in various regions to extort money from coal transporters and industrialists and his team was physically coordinating with lower level government functionaries and coal transporters and representatives of user companies.
“Since his employees were spread across the state, they maintained WhatsApp groups, excel sheets of each coal delivery order and the extorted amounts and shared them with Suryakant Tiwari, who in turn maintained detailed handwritten diaries of the incoming bribe amounts and their utilisation for purchase of benami lands, payment of bribes, payments for political expenditure etc.
“This kind of systemic extortion was not possible without the knowledge and active participation of the state machinery,” it said.