The ingenuity of Madhu Koda and his associates continue to surprise investigators probing what is being referred to as the Great Jharkhand Robbery. For all his claim to be a humble tribal, Koda and his men not only had the smarts to acquire mines in Liberia and Thailand, they also knew how to spirit away the money they allegedly made by handing over mining leases to different corporates to banks in Switzerland.
Officials from Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax (I-T), who are on the probe, have found details of accounts where they are suspected to have hoarded money. More importantly, they have also located the bullion trader from Mumbai's Zaveri Bazar who was their conduit to Swiss banks, trusted by corrupt rulers across the world for their secrecy.
The discovery of the Swiss dimension of the Jharkhand Loot coincided with the arrest of Vikas Sinha, one of Koda's accomplices. Sinha, younger brother of key Koda aide Binod, was arrested in Ranchi on Friday. Sources said Vikas admitted to carrying Rs 40 crore to Binod's chartered accountant S K Naredi -- a claim that was vehemently denied by the accused. Vikas, who has been remanded to judicial custody for 14 days, alleged that he was coerced into signing documents about which he knew nothing.
Importantly, Naredi is also Koda's chartered accountant, and is suspected to have cooked books to help the former chief minister acquire sponge iron and rolling mills in Jharkhand.
Vikas is considered to be the first of the catches that the ED and Income Tax want to net before moving on to Koda himself. Others who may be picked up soon are Binod and Sanjay Chaudhary.
While lookout notices have been put out for them, the focus of the probe from now shifts to the Swiss connection of the Koda group. The investigation has also exposed that even PSU banks were not carrying out due diligence for checking the source of extraordinarily huge cash deposits.
Sleuths have found that Zaveri Bazar branch of Union Bank of India failed to find anything amiss about Rs 61 crore that the Koda cartel deposited with it. The whole transaction took place in the space of less than 30 days -- between March 2 and March 31, 2007 -- and should have set off alarm bells claimed to have been installed in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attack.
The timing of the transactions is also significant and shows that Koda did not waste much time after he, helped by political uncertainty and a group of Independents, manoeuvered his way into the chief minister's office in September 2006.
Officials found out about the huge account during a search of the premises of Manoj Punamia, an associate of Koda, whose Balaji Bullion and other companies were central to money laundering by Koda and his group.
Sources claimed that investigators had found that one of Punamia's companies -- Balaji Universal Trade -- had a turnover disproportionately huge to its size -- $350 million. One deal alone was worth $55 million in cash.
The Balaji group of companies floated by Koda's associates had transferred $100 million using hawala route. Significantly, it also transferred at least $10 million to a Dubai frontman through legal channels in what could be a step to gradually legitimise the illicit overseas operations.
Another group firm -- Balaji Bullion -- had alleged transactions worth Rs 990 crore, it was found during initial probe. Three of the directors in Balaji Bullion were Binod Sinha, Sanjay Chaudhary and Arvind Vyas, all associates of the former Jharkhand CM.
Post-9/11, stringent measures had been deployed globally, including stiff due diligence procedure applied on banking channels in India to ensure that any dirty money infiltrating the system did not went undetected. All suspicious high-value transactions are supposed to be reported within a week to the Financial Intelligence Unit which after filtering them sends for further investigation to relevant intelligence agencies.
In this case, it seems the accused indulged in money laundering in a big way using both the banking channels and illicit hawala means hoodwinking the due diligence mechanism and intelligence agencies.
TNN 7 November 2009