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Drug cuffs on Yash Birla Group executive

Mumbai, Jan. 12: The Narcotics Control Bureau has arrested a top corporate honcho for being in possession of “enough cocaine to service a party” after tax sleuths stumbled upon the contraband during a search at offices of Yash Birla Group companies.

Anant Vardhan Pathak, group president, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs, was produced in a magistrate’s court today and sent to police custody till January 16.

Sources said Pathak, arrested last night, had been taken into custody by the NCB on Thursday night after tax officials found three packets of cocaine from his office in an iconic south Mumbai hotel during the countrywide search.

“We got a call from IT officials and reached the hotel to find enough cocaine to service a party. We took Pathak, his personal security officer (PSO) Dilip Palekar and peon Dharma Rathod into custody for interrogation. Later, we found enough prima facie evidence to arrest him,” NCB chief Rohit Katiyar said.

The three have been arrested under various provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Under the act, possession and purchase of more than 2gm of cocaine but less than the commercial quantity of 100gm is punishable with a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.

“The NCB has recorded the statements of the arrested three and that of the IT officials who had stumbled upon the contraband,” Katiyar said.

NCB sources said Pathak has claimed that the drug was for his personal consumption. “We are trying to find out whether it was procured for someone else. He said the drug was procured from a local peddler and his PSO and peon were assigned the task of getting it to the hotel room,” said a source.

The NCB is also investigating how the contraband got past security personnel at the five-star hotel.

Not much is known about Pathak, who raised a few eyebrows in Mumbai’s corporate circles when Yash Birla brought him in out of the blue and gave him a top job in his company a few years ago. A close friend of Yash Birla, Pathak has his employer’s ear and has been working with him to get the group out of the red.

The tax department had started the survey and search operation at five companies of the Yash Birla group in at least 45 premises in Mumbai and Delhi since last Tuesday.

The searches, sources in Mumbai said, were carried out in connection with probable tax evasion. The group’s declared income is allegedly disproportionate to its assets and turnover.

The group’s companies are also facing EOW investigations. A criminal case has been lodged against Yash Birla and seven of his directors.

“On October 14, Mumbai police received a complaint from Delhi’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) about a cheque bouncing case of Rs 5 crore. The cheque was issued by the Yash Birla Group’s Birla Power Solution to Delhi-based businessman Ashok Thapar,” said Rajyavarrdhan Sinha, additional commissioner of police, EOW, Mumbai.

Thapar had alleged that he had given a loan of Rs 5 crore to the Birla company and was assured interest returns at 30 per cent per annum, but the company gave him a cheque for Rs 5 crore which bounced as the account had been closed.

Months ago, a Colaba-based woman had made a similar allegation against the tycoon. The company had later issued another cheque for Rs 5 crore to Thapar from another bank, but this cheque was also returned since the account had insufficient funds.

Despite repeated calls, The Telegraph was unable to reach Yash Birla. Other group presidents too were unavailable for comment.

The 150-year-old group, which reportedly has a turnover of Rs 3,000 crore, has nine publicly listed companies.