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The ‘Rock’ of Gibraltar in Saradha’s stable

Calcutta, June 25: Saradha owner Sudipta Sen appears to have willingly walked into an “unprofitable” deal with Xenitis Group chairman Santanu Ghosh to buy Global Automobiles, an indebted venture, as part of his plan to project himself as an entrepreneur with varied interests, a senior Enforcement Directorate officer said.

“Although Sen tried to give the impression that he was forced to buy the two-wheeler company at a high price of Rs 52 crore, it appears he didn’t mind paying the amount as the deal would have benefited his deposit-mobilising business,” the officer said.

“Ghosh knew exactly why he had zeroed in on Sen as the potential buyer of the company and the Saradha boss was also aware of why he was investing,” the officer added.

Ghosh, who was arrested yesterday, was today remanded in the ED’s custody till June 30 by the city sessions court. His lawyers told the court that there were no irregularities in the Global Automobiles deal.

ED officers have learnt that busloads of potential depositors and those who had invested in Saradha schemes used to be brought to the two-wheeler manufacturing plant in Hooghly’s Chinsurah to be shown how Sen’s group was “expanding its business”.

According to the officers, workers at the plant would put on blue uniforms, take their place in the assembly shed and “pretend” to make bikes. The officers said very few bikes made it to the market. “Depositors taking a tour of the factory were offered lunch,” the ED officer said.

After gathering evidence that suggested that Sen never intended to run the two-wheeler company, ED sleuths got in touch with Xenitis Group chairman Ghosh to find out how the deal was struck in 2010 and what happened to the money that changed hands.

Preliminary investigation has reveal that of the Rs 52 crore, Sen had paid Rs 30 crore directly to the consortium of banks from which Ghosh had taken a loan of Rs 142 crore (with interest, the amount stood at Rs 186 crore) in 2009. Ghosh had allegedly told Sen to deposit Rs 6 crore in his account and Rs 16 crore in the account of Bengal Media, then owned by Xenitis but later taken over by Saradha.

Bengal Media, which used to run a news channel, had incurred a loss of Rs 8 crore at the time the deal was struck.

“Given the financial condition of both companies (Global Automobiles and Bengal Media), there was no reason to pay Rs 52 crore, the amount mentioned in documents,” the ED officer said.

Ghosh had floated Global Automobiles in 2007, around five years after Xenitis, which sold cheap computers under the brand name Aamar PC.

Ghosh had bought 7.7 acres in Chinsurah and recruited around 100 people in Global Automobiles. In February 2007, then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had inaugurated the two-wheeler plant.

A year later, Global Automobiles had launched the bike Rock 100 in New Delhi.