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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Odisha: Forest officer, son held for graft

Abhay Kant Pathak, a 1987-batch officer, served as Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Plan, Programme and Afforestation in the Odisha Forest Department. Pathak and his son Akash were detained by Vigilance on Thursday. 

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Bhubaneswar | Updated: November 28, 2020 6:29:02 am
The officer and his son were held on the charges of amassing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 9 crore.

A senior Indian Forest Officer, and his son were on Friday arrested by the Odisha vigilance sleuths on charges of amassing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 9 crores. The duo were detained by the vigilance department on Thursday and interrogated. A team of around 150 vigilance officials, conducted simultaneous raids at places in Odisha, 7 places in Maharashtra and one place in Bihar at residential and other premises of the 1987 batch officer, Abhay Kant Pathak, for two consecutive days.

After the searches, Pathak was found in possession of disproportionate assets of Rs 9,3,42,594 (435% of total income from all unknown sources), which he could not account for satisfactorily, officials said. The deposits to the tune of Rs 8 crore were made in the accounts of his son, which remain unaccounted for. The father and son duo have been remanded in judicial custody till December 9.

At present, Pathak serves as the additional PCCF of afforestation and planning in the state forest department since June 2018. Since his posting as the APCCF, he was also reportedly given the charge of a huge budget for afforestation that included money from CAMPA fund, NREGS as well as plantation under state schemes. In 2019, Centre had released Rs 5,933 crore of CAMPA fund to Odisha, the highest among all states.

“Since huge cash deposits have been made in private Banks through deposit slips and ATM counters and high value transactions have been made in the accounts, details of operations of the concerned Banks in this regard are being probed. Similarly, since the bookings and payments in respect of chartered flights have been made through Bhubaneswar based travel agencies, their role is being investigated. Details of income tax returns are being ascertained. Investments in shares, mutual funds and other market instruments are also being ascertained. Further, the aspects of benami transactions and properties are also being looked into,” an official statement by the Director, Vigilance stated.

A 20 member SIT (Special Investigation Team) has also been formed to thoroughly investigate all aspects in the case. Services of Cyber and Cell Phone Forensic experts are also being requisitioned for retrieving mobile and computer related data from the seized devices.

Pathak came under the vigilance radar after he frequently undertook trips in chartered flights during the lockdown. Giving details, officials said that during the lockdown, Pathak visited Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Patna with his family using services of a city based company Kalinga Aero and Allied Services Pvt Ltd. His last trip was to Pune with his wife and son on September 13 following which he came under the radar of the financial unit of a central agency. It is alleged that he spent Rs 3 crore on 20 such trips. According to vigilance officials, Pathak has also taken a flat and farmhouse in Pune on a monthly rent of Rs 5 lakh.

“So far, we have unearthed properties worth more than 9 crores. But the amount might cross Rs 20 crore in the further course of investigation. Raids are still underway,” a senior vigilance official told this newspaper.

As per records, the IFS officer owns a 8,000 square feet apartment in Bhubaneswar laid with Italian marbles and an ivory encrusted bed worth Rs 50 lakhs. From his residence the vigilance sleuths recovered over half kilograms of gold and Rs 10 lakhs cash from his house. Rs 50 lakh cash was recovered from his nephew who is a dentist and Rs 20 lakh was recovered from his driver. During the raids, it was also revealed that expensive vehicles like Mercedes, BMW and Tata Harrier were registered in the name of his son. Besides this, 800 grams gold was recovered from his residence.

“More than Rs 1 crore was paid towards house rent of the luxury flats and the farmhouse at Pune. Hotel bills of more than 90 lakhs at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and a booking amount of Rs 20 lakhs at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur in Rajasthan were also found during the search,” an official said.

In May this year, Pathak’s son was accused of duping people on the pretext of offering jobs by misrepresenting himself as the managing director of Tata Motors Passenger Car division. In the complaint by the automobile division to Odisha CID, Akash was accused of forgery, misrepresentation and cheating. In its FIR, the company had said that there is no person in the name of Akash Kumar Pathak who worked as the MD for Tata Motor Pune Passenger Division or CEO designate. An investigation into the matter is still underway.

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