January 14, 2021 4:09:00 am
A money laundering probe into the alleged cheating of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) of Rs 175 crore by Topsgrup Services and Solutions Limited has found that Amit Chandole, an alleged close associate of Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik, not only coordinated the contract with the authority for the security firm but later also planned to bribe MMRDA officials to clear some of the payments under the contract, as MMRDA had blacklisted Topsgrup due to non-payment of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Sources said the agency has found phone recordings of Chandole with M Sashidharan, former MD of Topsgrup, speaking of bribing MMRDA officials for releasing some pending payments and removing Topsgrup from the authority’s blacklist. Both Chandole and Sasidharan have been arrested by the ED in connection with the case.
The ED probe, sources said, has also found WhatsApp exchanges between Rahul Nanda, promoter of Topsgrup Services, and his company officials, directing them to withhold other corporate payments in order to pay Chandole. The payment to Chandole, according to the ED probe, was made on behalf of Sarnaik, as the MLA had a “verbal agreement based on trust” with Topsgrup for sharing 50 per cent of the profits arising out of the MMRDA contract.
Nanda has also referred to Chandole as “Pratap’s main man” in his WhatsApp texts to company officials, said sources. “…We have to handle Amit (Chandole) properly… he is Pratap’s main man. We have to pay Amit on Monday,” said one of the WhatsApp messages of Nanda to a Topsgrup official.
The WhatsApp chats also show that Chandole has asked Topsgrup to provide a complimentary service of 100 guards, 25 bouncers and a mobile van in May 2019 for the wedding of Sarnaik’s son Purvesh. Nanda had approved this complimentary service, said sources. The ED case is based on an FIR, filed on October 28, last year, by a former employee of Topsgrup, Ramesh Iyer, who has alleged that the company cheated MMRDA of Rs 175 crore. The contract pertained to supply of over 350 security and traffic marshals of foot over bridges in Mumbai to MMRDA, but it is alleged that Topsgrup provided only 70 per cent of the workforce and billed the authority for the full amount.
The ED probe, sources said, has found that in a particular month, while Topsgrup paid only Rs 13 lakh to 140 guards posted at MMRDA, it raised invoices of Rs 43 lakh for 270 guards.
The agency has found that MMRDA made payments to Topsgrup for the contract on the basis of forged inspection reports submitted by its land surveyors, who were in-charge of the physical verification of the sites where the guards of Topsgrup were deployed. According to sources, the Google location history of at least three surveyors of MMRDA probed by the ED has revealed that no surveyor visited the sites allotted to them for supervision before filing a positive report recommending payments to Topsgrup.
Sources also said the ED has found that between May 2017 and June 2020, Topsgrup paid commissions of about Rs 2.36 crore to Sarnaik through Chandole. The agency has also alleged that Sarnaik got kickbacks of Rs 7 crore from Topsgrup since 2014.
The agency has questioned Sarnaik, his sons Vihang and Purvesh and a few others. Nanda and his daughter Rasshi, too, have been summoned multiple times but they are yet to appear before the agency.
Sarnaik, a three-time Sena MLA from Thane, had initiated a breach of privilege motion against Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami for his remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and other state ministers.
He was also one of the first politicians in the state to seek a reinvestigation into the Anvay Naik suicide case, for which Goswami was subsequently arrested by Raigad Police.
Despite repeated attempts, Sarnaik could not be contacted.
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