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Wanted steel boss held from under ‘CBI nose’

Neeraj Singal, (above) Ranjit Sinha

New Delhi, Aug. 7: A five-day CBI chase across three metros for Bhushan Steel MD Neeraj Singal in a corruption case ended today at a star hotel “right under the nose” of the agency headquarters in Delhi, officers said.

The hunt had been on since Saturday when a “very courteous” Singal beguiled CBI sleuths during a raid at his bungalow into believing his word that he would visit the agency office the next day (Sunday), only to go into hiding.

CBI chief Ranjit Sinha has ordered an internal probe into why the four officers did not arrest him despite clear orders.

Today, Singal, accused of paying bribes to the chairman of a PSU bank who is already in custody, was tracked down to the star hotel barely 400 meters from the agency headquarters on Lodhi Road.

“Singal was arrested this afternoon. Our officials were conducting raids in three metros to trace him but we had no inkling that he was staying right under our nose,” said a senior CBI officer.

Bhushan Steel claimed Singal had “surrendered voluntarily at the CBI headquarters”. “Mr. Neeraj Singal, vice-chairman and managing director, on August 7, 2014, at 4.25pm surrendered voluntarily before the CBI headquarters, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, to participate and co-operate in the ongoing investigation,” the company said in a filing before the BSE where its shares are listed.

The CBI has alleged that Bhushan executives used middlemen to pay a bribe of Rs 50 lakh in cash to S.K. Jain, the Syndicate Bank chief who was held on Saturday from Mumbai, to extend the credit limit of the company despite failure to repay previous loans.

Another businessman, Prakash Industries boss Prakash Agarwal, was also picked up on similar charges. Both firms are under the scanner in the coal block allocations.

Bhushan is one of India’s biggest steel companies with a turnover of Rs 9,675.83 crore in 2013-14.

“Besides, Bhushan Steel’s bribe of Rs 50 lakh, Prakash Industries had given Rs 3 crore to Jain which we have not been able to trace so far. We suspect Jain had received a large amount through the hawala route, making the transactions difficult to track,” a CBI officer alleged.

According to the officer, the probe in the bribery scandal has widened as two to three more public sector banks have come under the scanner.

Acting on a tip-off six months ago that Jain was allegedly demanding bribes directly and through middlemen to extend the credit limits of several companies, the CBI’s anti-corruption wing had put him under surveillance. CBI chief Sinha had monitored the operation.