The Surat hawala racket busted by Enforcement Directorate (ED), Ahmedabad last year is said to have grown into a Rs 8,000 crore worth scam, making it one of the biggest cases of illegal money laundering in the country. According to highly placed sources, this case is now being monitored by the Supreme Court-appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating black money stashed away abroad.
Last week while opposing the bail application of one of the key accused Mumbai-based trader Rakesh Kothari, the lawyers representing the ED in the High Court told the court that the scam is likely to involve over Rs 10,000 crore. Apart from its main accused Surat-based operator Afroz Fatta who is languishing in jail as an undertrial, the ED has so far chargesheeted 89 accused in the case and zeroing in on more people involved.
ED has already filed two separate chargesheets against the accused. In the second chargesheet the name of well-known Mumbai-based bullion trader Prithviraj Kothari figures in various statements alleging his involvement in the racket. According to sources Prithviraj Kothari was summoned several times by the ED and he appeared to record statement twice. Kothari has challenged ED’s investigation in the SC which ordered the ED not to arrest him.
The chargesheet quotes the accused Rakesh Kothari, said to be a family member of Prithviraj Kothari, as saying “Madanlal Manekchand Jain (another key accused) were family friends and they know each other; that Rs 100 crore was the amount transferred to Madanlal Jain and that the amount did not belong to him; It belonged to his uncle Prithviraj Kothari and he had the correct figure and would also enlighten further investigation.”
Soon after Rakesh Kothari was arrested in September, Prithviraj Kothari, MD of Riddhi Siddhi Bullions issued a press statement saying, “He (Rakesh) is not involved with our company in any way or in any capacity. In fact he is not even in the bullion field…He has blood ties with me, but absolutely no business ties.”
However, the chargesheet quoting Rakesh’s statement claims “he had sent Rs 750 crore to Surat through various angadias for further Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) and the money belonged to his paternal uncle Prithviraj Kothari. The chargesheet states that Rakesh revaled the modus operandi saying that Anil, “the man of working in Prithviraj Kothari’s office” would give him cash. Rakesh has also identified other people “who were doing illegal transfer of money for Prithviraj namely Hukam Raj, Rajni Mahal, Tara Deo, Yunus among others.
In March last year ED busted the hawala racket and arrested one of the key alleged operator Afroz Fatta, a Surat resident. It was disclosed that Fatta, through various bogus companies that forged bill of entry, remitted money abroad mainly in Hong Kong and Dubai. Investigation revealed that through this racket businessmen of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and even from South India have laundered their money abroad through this illegal channel.
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