THE ENFORCEMENT Directorate (ED) questioned former Congress MLA Baba Siddique for over nine hours Friday in connection with the alleged multi-crore scam in a Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) project. The case pertains to alleged irregularities in the redevelopment of a slum, Jamaat-e-Jamhooria, in Bandra, by Pyramid Developers.
Siddique, a three-time MLA from Bandra West, reached the ED’s Mumbai headquarters around 11 am Friday and was permitted to leave at 8.15 pm. The central agency that has registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 against Siddqiue and others, is probing if the MLA misused his position as the chairman of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) to help Pyramid Developers bag the project. It is also investigating if Pyramid is a front company floated by the Congress leader and the money made through the sale of flats laundered to create assets.
According to sources, while the alleged scam is pegged at Rs 2,000 crore, the agency is currently concentrating on the Rs 100 crore that it suspects the developer made by selling a few flats in the under-construction project located in one of the prime real estate locations of suburban Mumbai. “We have interrogated his aide in the past, who revealed that a few flats have been already sold by the developer. Going by that, Siddique was quizzed specifically on the money earned through the sale of these flats,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named. The predicate offence was registered by the Mumbai Police in March 2014. Based on the complaint filed by a resident, Abdul Salaam, in 2012, the Bandra police registered a case against Siddique and 150 others for alleged irregularities in the allotment of houses in the SRA project.
The police action was initiated after a metropolitan magistrate court ordered a probe into the case. Explaining the irregularities, a source said the project was undertaken by Pyramid Developers at a cost of Rs 90 crore. Subsequently, the developer sold the plot to Satra group and the two entered a joint development agreement, which included equal sharing of the flats. This allowed each of the developers the rights to sell 40 flats each. The agency suspects that the revenue generated by the sale of these super-luxury apartments would be in the range of Rs 1,800 to Rs 2,000 crore. Sources said Siddique, who was the chairman of MHADA between 2000 and 2004, allegedly misused his position to increase the FSI.
“We have quizzed Rafique Maqbool Qureshi, who is the director of Pyramid Developers. He, during questioning, has invoked Siddique at various counts. The Friday questioning was pertaining to the revelations made by Qureshi. We have confronted Siddique with the statement made by Qureshi,” said an official who did not wish to be named. “He was also quizzed on the changes in the FSI of the plot during his stint with the MHADA,” added the official. The officer also added that while Siddique was allowed to leave Friday, he had been asked to join investigations again.
“We will verify his claims before summoning him again,” added the officer. Asked if a custodial interrogation would be required, the officer said a decision on this would be taken after evaluating his responses. “There is ample evidence to indict Siddique. We will seek the said remedy only if we find that he is not cooperating with us and evading investigation,” added the officer. Speaking to The Indian Express, Siddique’s son Zeeshan said his father had honoured the summons and presented himself before the agency. “Let the law takes its own course. We have faith in the system,” he said as he stood outside the ED office waiting for his father. The ED had last month carried out searches at seven different locations in connection with the case.