The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday questioned NRI businessman Cheruvathur Chakutty Thampi in connection with alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) in the purchase of hundreds of acres of agricultural land in Gurgaon, Faridabad and Kerala.
The businessman, known as C C Thampi, is chairman of the Holiday Group, which has multiple business interests in India and the UAE. Thampi also runs several educational institutions.
ED sources said Thampi was picked up for questioning in Chennai after he failed to get relief from Kerala High Court, which he had approached with a plea to quash a look-out circular issued against him.
Preliminary questioning by ED had revealed that Thampi had bought huge tracts of land during the time the UPA was in power, using the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) route, sources close to the investigation told The Sunday Express. Over 400 acres of the land bought by Thampi are in Haryana, the sources said.
Investigators suspect that Thampi not only violated FEMA in the purchase of these properties, he also laundered money through his Dubai-based entities. They, however, cautioned that investigations were still at an early stage.
Despite repeated attempts, Thampi could not be reached for comment. Unlike money laundering, FEMA is a civil offence that was introduced in 1999 to replace the draconian Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).
Government sources said the NRI businessman had also been questioned on his alleged proximity to politicians and bureaucrats during the Congress regime. His name had earlier cropped up in investigations by the CBI in 2010 when the agency registered multiple FIRs against engineering colleges for allegedly obtaining approval from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the technical education regulator, without proper infrastructure.
ED officials said Thampi is a director in more than two dozen companies with interests ranging from real estate to holiday resorts to distilleries, a fact corroborated by records with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. They said they did not want a repeat of the situation that had seen liquor baron Vijay Mallya and meat exporter Moin Qureshi leave the country despite look-out notices against them. “We had issued notice to Thampi to appear before the ED, but we learnt that he had approached the Kerala High Court and was trying to fly out of the country,” said an ED officer.
While Qureshi came back, Mallya, who is reported to be in UK, did not respond to ED summons.
The ED also plans to seek assistance from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the intelligence arm of the finance ministry, to trace investments made by Thampi and his companies overseas, said another official on condition of anonymity.