The Enforcement Directorate on Sunday said the main accused in the fraud gaming app case is untraceable in which it has seized Rs 17.32 crore after raiding the promoters of a Kolkata-based mobile gaming company as part of a money laundering investigation.
The agency, official sources said, is looking at some “political links” of the app promoters and wants to ascertain the actual beneficiaries of this cash, even as it is investigating the possible routing of the funds spent by gullible gamers here through some “Chinese-controlled” entities.
A photograph released by the federal agency showed multiple bundles of Rs 500 currency notes along with a few in the denomination of Rs 2,000, Rs 200 and Rs 100 stacked on a bed depicting the ED abbreviation.
The sources said the cash was recovered from a premise which has an address mentioned as ‘F 7. N A Khan’ and is located in the Garden Reach area of Kolkata.
The ED said in a statement that “Aamir Khan, the main accused was not found and is not traceable”.
“During the search, various incriminating documents have been recovered and seized. Cash amounting to Rs 17.32 crore has been found and seized from the premises during the search,” the statement said.
Agency officials called in at least five note-counting machines and summoned bank staff to ascertain the exact value of the cash haul. A truck later ferried the cash that was kept and sealed in large steel trunks, to be deposited in a bank.
The searches were conducted at half-a-dozen locations linked to the gaming app named ‘E-Nuggets’, those linked to Khan and others.
CRPF personnel escorted the ED teams at locations like Garden Reach, Park Street and Mominpur areas in and around the West Bengal capital, among others.
In August, the ED had seized cash worth about Rs 50 crore along with jewellery and gold after it raided premises linked to Arpita Mukherjee, an alleged aide of former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee.
Both were arrested by the agency.
The latest raids sparked a fresh war of words between the ruling TMC in West Bengal and the BJP.
Senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said his party has nothing to do with the businessman concerned but alleged that the Centre wanted to drive away investors from the state by spreading the fear of “harassment” by federal agencies.
The BJP rejected the charge, saying the raids were only against unscrupulous businessmen, and asked the TMC leader if he had anything to hide.
Hakim wondered if the ED’s investigations into money laundering cases are restricted to states ruled by non-BJP parties like West Bengal.
“If Rs 7 crore has been unearthed, the source of that money should certainly be investigated. But what about Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi who had swindled more than Rs 7,000 crore? Why did their wrongdoing not come to light before they left (India)?
“There are businessmen in BJP-ruled states and they might also have amassed large amounts of money,” he said.
“Does that mean that the raids will be directed selectively against businessmen of non-BJP ruled states like Bengal? It is for dissuading investors from coming to Bengal in the fear of harassment by central agencies,” the senior TMC leader alleged.
Reacting to Hakim’s comments, BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya claimed that such statements come from fear as people are aware of the “unholy nexus” between money launderers and the TMC.
“The ED raid is not directed against the business community in general. It is only against unscrupulous businessmen. Does the former state transport minister have anything to hide?” Bhattacharya added.
The money laundering case stems from an FIR filed by the Kolkata Police against the company and its promoters in February 2021.
This FIR was registered at the Park Street police station based on a complaint filed by the Federal Bank authorities before a court in Kolkata, the ED said.
Aamir Khan, son of businessman Nesar Ahmed Khan, launched the mobile gaming application E-Nuggets that was designed to defraud the public, the agency alleged.
“During the initial period, the users were rewarded with a commission and the balance in the wallet could be withdrawn hassle-free.
“This provided initial confidence among users, and they started investing bigger amounts for a greater percentage of commission and a greater number of purchase orders,” it said.
The ED said that after collecting a “handsome amount” from the public, withdrawal from the said app was stopped all of a sudden under one pretext or the other such as system upgradation and investigation by law enforcement agencies.
Later, all data, including profile information, was wiped off the app servers. It was then that the users understood the ploy, the ED said.
Official sources said the agency is investigating if this app and its operators had links with other ‘Chinese controlled’ apps that had been issuing loans at exorbitant rates to gullible persons. In many cases, the loan takers ended their lives after they were threatened by these loan operators to pay up.
Operations of online gaming businesses are under the scanner of the probe agencies. The Income-Tax department in February raided a Mumbai-based group engaged in online cricket betting and gaming.
Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Chairman Nitin Gupta recently told PTI that the department found that around 8 million (80 lakh) players were registered with this gaming portal and the gross earnings detected in this case were to the tune of Rs 58,000 crore over the last three years.
The CBDT, soon after these raids, had said in a statement that the department detected a “cash” turnover of Rs 600 crore that was made by the company in six months.
All these transactions and earnings in the Mumbai case were not reported to the tax authorities, according to official sources.a