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Collection scam: SC hints at CBI probe

New Delhi/Bhubaneswar, April 23: The Supreme Court today indicated that it would order a CBI probe into the swindling of over Rs 50,000 crore belonging to investors by 44 deposit collection companies, including Bengal-based Saradha group.

The scam that surfaced last year triggered a political storm in the state with the Opposition slamming the BJD, which ordered a crime branch inquiry into the goings-on of around 127 such money collection entities, apart from instituting a judicial probe. The Opposition, however, continued to insist on a CBI probe.

The bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice C. Nagappan said a CBI inquiry was needed to track down the conspiracy in the embezzlement as the companies had operations not only in the state, but also in Assam and Tripura.

The court decided to order a CBI inquiry after former solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium appearing for the state government had initially opposed it but later relented when the bench assured him that it did not in any manner reflect on the state machinery’s functioning.

The bench today also expressed its shock after counsel Sunil Mathews appearing for the petitioner Alok Jena, brought to the court’s notice that the panchayati raj department had issued a circular to all self-help groups in the state to invest in Microfinance Corporation Ltd, which had heavily defrauded the investors.

While the petitioner had claimed that Rs 50,000 crore was involved in the scandal, the state insisted that it was only around Rs 3,000 crore.

The court minced no words in expressing displeasure at the inaction of regulatory agencies such as SEBI, RBI and Registrar of Companies in preventing the loot of public money and said their conduct should also be probed to unravel the conspiracy.

The apex court questioned various probe agencies for failing to prevent the scam and rejected the government’s contention that the Justice R.K. Patra Commission and state police were making all efforts to refund the investors and book the culprits.

“You say properties worth Rs 500 crore had been attached. But where is the remaining Rs 2,500 crore, even if we are to take your figure of Rs 3,000 crore as being defrauded,” Justice Thakur, heading the bench, asked Subramanium.

The counsel said the state had introduced the Odisha Protection of Interests of Depositors and Finance Act, 2013, which prescribed a maximum punishment of 10 years with fine, which he claimed, indicated the state’s seriousness to deal with the issue.

But, the argument did not impress the court, which asked: “Tell us what you have done to unearth the money. There is no agency to detect where the money has gone. All your efforts so far have only led to collection of 20 per cent of the money.”

The court also brushed aside Subramanium’s claim that the Patra commission was seriously looking into the matter.

A deposit collection scam surfaced in the state last year when big-time operators such as Sea Shore group, Artha Tatwa, Saradha group, Astha and Flourish India were found to have duped investors of around Rs 2,000 crore. Artha Tatwa group chief Pradip Sethy and Sea Shore group chairman Prashant Dash are both in jail.

The state government, till recently, had been fighting shy of a CBI inquiry fearing repercussions in the elections. But today, BJD leader Kalpataru Das said the state government would extend all co-operation in the event of a CBI inquiry being ordered.