There is a “huge element of money laundering” in illegal public deposit schemes across the country, a top SEBI official said on Thursday, even as he wondered why not many claimants are coming forward to get back the money in the high-profile Sahara case.
“So far as Sahara is concerned, we have a decent amount of money but not many claimants. That is a question mark, as to why there are no claimants despite the fact that we have made multiple advertisements seeking applications to pay the money,” SEBI Whole Time Member S Raman told reporters in Mumbai. Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of a website under the State Level Coordination Committees (SLCC) scheme to tackle the menace of illegal money pooling activities, Raman said there is “huge element of money laundering” in such schemes. Because of this, the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate of Enforcement should also be made a part of the state-level coordination panels, which began working in 2014, he added.
In Sahara case, SEBI was given truckloads of documents not connected to one another and undertook the gargantuan task of sifting through those which has not been done by any regulator in the world, Raman said.
“The entire desire of ours is to distribute as much money as possible,” he said. Sahara is engaged in a long-running dispute with SEBI over schemes involving raising of funds from public through certain bonds and the group was asked to return thousands of crores along with interest to the investors through the regulator. The group claims to have already refunded 95 per cent of the money directly to the investors. As per the latest SEBI data, it has got Rs 11,272 crore with interest in its Sahara Refund Account while the money returned to investors is just around Rs 55 crore. Talking about another high-profile case involving Pearl Group entity PACL, which was asked by SEBI to refund over Rs 50,000 crore collected from investors, Raman said the recently constituted committee under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha is trying to collect details of properties owned by the group.
He, however, sought to clarify that in PACL, the watchdog had been proactive in barring the company from collecting funds as far back in 1996, but the company got a relief in its favour from a High Court. SEBI successfully challenged the order in the apex court, but an order from the Supreme Court came only in 2012 by which time it had raised the money. Referring to some media reports about the group trying to raise money from sale of some assets in Australia, Raman said the market watchdog is in touch with Australian authorities to ensure that proceeds are not diverted for any other purpose.
“We are in touch with Australian authorities not to allow the sale transaction proceeds to go away. All that is in the process,” he said. “In Sahara (case) you would have seen in the papers, we got truckloads of papers not connected with one another. It is a huge effort, I don’t think any regulator in the world has to face such a challenge. The challenge was faced and met and we are doing our best to ensure…the entire desire of ours is to distribute as much money as possible.”
According to him, the responsibility to repay the investors is on the persons who have taken the funds.
“Regulator is somebody who tries to ensure that such illegal fund raisings do not happen… Our desire is to see that nobody loses any money but the most important weapon in our hand is investor education,” Raman said.