A five-member Enforcement Directorate (ED) team on Tuesday seized several documents while searching the Kolkata residence and office of businessman Parasmal Lodha in connection with an investigation into a money laundering case. Sources said ED officials believe Lodha illegally converted demonetised notes for many influential people — most from south India and some from Bengal — by re-routing cash through hawala routes. He was seen as the “ultimate saviour who knew the routes to instant cash”, said investigators.
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Officials also said that during its search at ‘Lodha House’, the businessman’s Queens Park residence, and office at S N Roy Road, the agency had recovered some documents purported to be of a Swiss bank account in the name of a woman who could be associated with Lodha. They also revealed that a handset that had been seized the day he was arrested contained messages that looked like “an encyclopaedia with contact details of big names”.
ED officials had been tracking Lodha after the demonetisation announcement, after which a dossier was prepared containing a list of hawala traders and influential people he was in touch with. Consequently, clearances were sought from the ministry of home affairs, after which he was arrested last week. Calling him a “big catch”, sleuths said this would help them crack a countrywide network of people who had taken advantage of demonetisation. Interrogation has so far revealed that Lodha was offering his services to influential people including political personalities at the rate of 20-25 per cent.
Lodha (62), at present, is in ED custody in Delhi, which had booked him on criminal charges for his alleged involvement in two high-profile black money cases of illegal conversion of old notes in the wake of demonetisation. The agency will soon issue summons to some people associated with Lodha and involved in the case, said sources.
The ED is understood to have confronted him with advocate Rohit Tandon of T and T law firm (in Delhi), who has been questioned in the same case more than once by the investigating officer of the case in Delhi. He was arrested by the agency in “connection with the recovery of large amount in new currency notes from a company belonging to Tandon and J Shekhar Reddy of Chennai”.
The agency had earlier claimed that he was involved in a “deep-rooted conspiracy” in this case and that he was charging a commission “at the rate of 15-20 per cent” to convert old notes into new ones of several people. It had said Lodha admitted that “post demonetisation he and his associates had converted old currency of at least Rs 25 crore into new currency notes”.
While Tandon’s case pertains to an operation of Delhi Police and the Income Tax department earlier this month when the agencies had allegedly seized Rs 13.6 crore from a law firm he is associated with, that of mining baron Reddy relates to Chennai where the I-T department has made the biggest detection of alleged unaccounted income of over Rs 142 crore.
Both the cases pertain to the ED’s anti-black money operations post the currency ban. These two cases, involving Tandon and Reddy, are being probed by at least four agencies— the ED, the Income Tax department, the CBI and Delhi Police.