The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday conducted searches at 10 places in Thane and Mumbai, including the residences and offices of Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik and his sons, in connection with an alleged money laundering case.
Sarnaik, a three-time Shiv Sena MLA from Thane, had initiated a breach of privilege motion against Republic TV Editor Arnab Goswami for his remarks against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and other ministers of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. He was also one of the first politicians in the state to seek a re-investigation into the Anvay Naik suicide case, for which Goswami was subsequently arrested by the Raigad Police.
While the probe agency did not disclose details of the alleged money laundering case, it said searches were conducted on the promoters of Topsgrup, a security firm founded by Rahul Nanda, and “related members, including some politicians”.
The agency later detained Sarnaik’s son, Vihang Sarnaik, and brought him to its office at Ballard Estate in South Mumbai for further questioning.
The ED case against Nanda and Sarnaik is based on an FIR registered by the Mumbai Police after a magistrate court directed it to do so, based on a complaint filed by two senior employees of Topsgrup, whose services were terminated by the company on October 10 for alleged embezzlement of funds.
In their complaint to the police, the two former employees have alleged that Nanda diverted money to an offshore trust and also alleged irregularities by Topsgrup in the acquisition of a firm in the UK in 2007. The complaint has also alleged that Nanda had a business relationship with Sarnaik.
Nanda told The Indian Express that Topsgrup filed an FIR in September against the two employees for siphoning funds from the company and terminated their employment.
“I settled in London 14 years ago and Topsgrup in India is being managed by professionals. I am just a shareholder in the firm. In 2019, I got to know that the company is defaulting on payments so I came to India and the board initiated a forensic audit which showed money had been embezzled by the chief executive officer, Ramesh Iyer, and Director, Finance, Amar Panghal. Their employment was terminated and a FIR was filed against them. Now they have filed a complaint with the ED against me.”
Nanda denied business dealings with Sarnaik. “I have known Pratap Sarnaik for 25 years and he has not invested even a rupee in my company,” said Nanda.
The complaint has alleged foreign exchange violations in the acquisition of UK-based The Shield Guarding Co Ltd for Rs 140 crore by Topsgrup in 2007. The UK firm filed for bankruptcy in 2016. The complaint has also alleged that Nanda diverted money to a Mauritius trust that allegedly has a close relationship with Sarnaik.
Nanda has informed the ED that the Mauritius trust was created as per laws after consulting top law firms Khaitan & Co and Nishith Desai & Associates for transferring 66 per cent shares of Topsgrup. “No funds were ever transferred to the Trust. We had opened a bank account in Mauritius but this account was never used,” said Nanda.
Leaders of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi hit out at the BJP and the Centre over the ED raids.
“What is happening in the state is reflective of the defeatist mindset of our opponents. Instead of answering the questions of people, the Centre is using Government agencies against its political opponents. This is not proper. Our opponents know that with the MVA government completing one year in power, it is difficult for them to come back into power. That is the reason they are using the power they have at the Centre,” NCP Chief Sharad Pawar said.
Shiv Sena MP and party’s spokesperson Sanjay Raut called the raids political vendetta. “If anybody thinks the MVA government will come under pressure by using Central agencies, then they are living in a fool’s paradise,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, Sarnaik met Raut in the Saamana office. “We are unaware of the ED investigation and are gathering information,” Sarnaik told mediapersons after the meeting.