A day after the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) claimed to have recovered Rs 50 crore as part of a crackdown in Kolkata and Siliguri against lottery and hawala dealers allegedly channeling funds to Dubai, officials said nearly Rs 80 crore in cash has been seized.
With the raids continuing, the figure is likely to increase. Meanwhile, one of the main accused, identified as S Nagarajan from Kolkata’s Hazra area, was detained late Thursday.
The operation was launched on Thursday at nine locations based on Intelligence Bureau inputs about an alleged fake lottery racket being run in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The premises are owned allegedly by two firms — G Systems and F P Enterprises.
Officials admitted that the crackdown has also thrown up several possibilities — suspected links to Dawood Ibrahim and the use of the recovered money in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections.
“Till now, we have seized almost Rs 80 crore in cash, with Kolkata alone amounting to nearly Rs 70 crore. The raids are on and we are looking at all possibilities. Right now it’s too early to discount any possibility,” said an officer.
Most of the money, generated from illegal lottery rackets in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, was laundered to the Middle East, with Bangladesh emerging as the preferred hawala route from Bengal, said officials.
“The source of the money primarily seems to be illegal lottery rackets in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. We have also seized lottery tickets, which indicate that a racket was being run in the two states… money was being sent regularly to Bengal through hawala routes. The hawala operatives worked on a percentage to ensure that the money was outside India, while it arrived to Kolkata in gunny bags and sacks,” said an officer.
Explaining the modus operandi of the alleged scam, an officer said: “The money laundering syndicate would have different agents employed with the specific purpose of calling up people across the country
to inform them that they had won a lottery. These people were then given different bank account numbers and asked to deposit a processing charge to claim the lottery amount. Once the money was deposited, the agents would withdraw the same and disappear.”
The officer added that initial investigations have revealed that the money would then be routed via hawala to its source destination in the Middle East, via different locations, including Bangladesh.
Bank accounts, numbering to over a 1,000 across the country, were used by the syndicate, said the officer.
On Thursday, CBDT had detained one suspect, identified as X Alexander, while another suspect, Santiago Martin, is still absconding.
Following Alexander’s interrogation, S Nagarjan was detained from his flat at Hazra in Kolkata.
He is a resident of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and has been living in Kolkata with his family for years, said officials.
Martin (50), a businessman, was at the forefront of lottery operations in Karnataka until 2007. He faces 32 cases of lottery fraud in Kerala. Last year, the CBI had submitted chargesheets in seven of these cases.
He has also been accused of defrauding the Sikkim government of Rs 4,500 crore by skimming proceeds from the Sikkim lottery in Kerala.
Investigating officers said that they are also inspecting the manner in which the two firms, G System and F P Enterprises, were being utilised in the laundering operation.
“The money, which was being laundered, had at its source illegal businesses. We believe that apart from the lottery business, retails shops were also used as fronts. It is entirely possible that some of the money has already left the country,” said an officer.
Despite repeated attempts, the firms’ officials could not be reached for comments.
On Thursday, search teams, led by the sleuths of Kolkata I-T investigations wing, had recovered about Rs 50 crore cash from 16 gunny bags, 27 travel bags and two almirahs from different locations in Kolkata and Siliguri. The teams, comprising about 100 members, have deployed around a dozen machines to count the currency notes.