Shapoorji Pallonji did business with arrested MHADA officer: police

Real estate group says the payment was for ‘land aggregation’

Written by Smita Nair | Mumbai | Published: May 11, 2012 1:22:26 am

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of the Maharashtra Police claims it has found evidence of business transactions of Rs 258 crore between real estate giant Shapoorji Pallonji Company Ltd (SPCL) and the suspended Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA) deputy collector,Nitesh Thakur.

SPCL told The Indian Express that it had made payments to two companies represented by Thakur’s brother Nilesh Thakur,but the amount was less than what the ACB has claimed.

A top SPCL official said the money was paid for “land aggregation”,or arranging land for the company to develop projects in Alibaug and Pen. Recovery proceedings had been launched since the deal had not been successful,the official said.

The ACB arrested Thakur in March after raiding properties in Mumbai,Alibaug,Thane,Murud and Raigad,allegedly owned by him. The ACB alleged that Thakur owned assets hugely disproportionate to his sources of income — including large stashes of cash,jewellery and luxury cars — and had made large investments.

Home Minister R R Patil told the assembly last month that Thakur received a large sum of money from Shapoorji Pallonji,and the state would probe the reason behind the alleged payment. Patil did not mention the amount.

ACB sources told The Indian Express that investigators had found agreements,signed documents,bank account statements and cheques at properties allegedly owned by Thakur,indicating SPCL’s interest in purchasing land in Raigad district. The Rs 258 crore was allegedly received by companies floated by Thakur,some of which had his brother Nilesh as director.

The payment was allegedly made when Thakur was on unsanctioned leave for over four years from 2005. During this time,Thakur is alleged to have floated companies named Surya Roshni,Shree Constructions,Vandana Enterprises,Disha Construction,PRS Enterprise and Acecord Agro. A senior ACB official said Thakur allegedly used his clout in the revenue department to track files and secure approvals for real estate projects.

The SPCL official,however,said that “all business transactions entered into by SPCL are fully compliant with the law”. The payments were made to PRS Enterprise and Acecord as “advance for land purchase”,he said. He declined to disclose the amount.

“While SPCL mandated the two companies to aggregate 900 acres of land for its projects in Alibaug and Pen,the companies could not manage to arrange even 300 acres that were meant for the first phase. Following this we have initiated recovery proceedings against PRS Enterprise and Acecord which was represented by Nilesh Thakur,” the SPCL official said.

“We were told that his brother Nitesh Thakur is no longer the deputy collector and he has resigned from the post. Nitesh even accompanied Nilesh in identifying the properties for us on a couple of occasions. We signed our first cheque in 2007,but somewhere between 2009 and 2010,we realised that the companies failed to secure 300 acres of land meant for the first phase. Nilesh also went around procuring properties which were not needed by us,” the official said.

Late last month,the case reached Bombay High Court after a PIL was filed by a former journalist,and the court issued notice to the chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji. The 147-year-old group is involved in construction,infrastructure and home appliances. In 2010,the company completed the construction of a twin skyscraper project named ‘The Imperial’ in Mumbai,said to be the tallest residential buildings in the country.

The PIL also sought to link Cyrus Mistry,chairman-designate of the Tata Group and son of Pallonji Mistry,the chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji,to the case. Shapoorji Pallonji subsequently issued a statement saying Mistry was in no way connected to the case or the petition,and that an appropriate reply would be filed in court.

ACB sources said Thakur’s movable and immovable disproportionate assets are estimated at Rs 81.42 crore. A total seven lockers were found and seized from seven of his apartments. Among his assets listed by the agency are Rs 43 crore in fixed deposits,five high-end cars including an Audi and a Land Rover,and 26 properties,including both houses and shops.

Thakur’s passport showed several trips to Dubai. Investigators are now probing a transaction that took place this year in which a Dubai-based firm allegedly paid Rs 16 crore to Thakur’s Acecord Agro.

“During questioning,Thakur asserted that the companies were floated by his brother. But his brother did not seem to have any source of income to invest between 2007 and 2010. The companies might have made legal transactions but a government employee cannot misuse his position or float companies to enter into commercial transactions,” a senior IPS officer with the ACB said.

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