Calcutta, June 24: The Saradha net has been cast for the first time beyond the company and its immediate dependants with the arrest today of a Calcutta businessman who had made a name for himself by selling low-cost personal computers over a decade ago.
Santanu Ghosh, the chairman of Xenitis Group that sold computers branded Aamar PC, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday after several rounds of interrogation.
Ghosh is the first person to be arrested from outside the Saradha Group and the immediate family of the funds collection company’s chief, Sudipta Sen. The CBI too is probing the Saradha scandal now.
The name of Ghosh, whose affiliations have reflected the ebb and flow of the political tide in Bengal, figured in a letter purportedly written by Sen to the CBI before the Saradha boss was arrested.
Ghosh was arrested in the course of a probe into charges that he had taken loans totalling Rs 140 crore from a consortium of six banks through a complex “web” and then managed to prevail upon Saradha’s Sen to buy out his company, Global Automobiles. The automobile company had in 2008 launched a 100cc motorcycle called Rock and priced at Rs 19,990.
ED officials claimed that Ghosh had coaxed Sen into buying the automobile company when it was on the verge of closure. “Ghosh had asked Sen to deposit Rs 50 crore directly with the banks but couldn’t explain what he had done with the loans he had received from the consortium. The charges against Ghosh have a direct bearing on the money trail,” said a senior ED official.
“We had sent him repeated summons recently but he refused to turn up. He has been arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” the official added.
In Sen’s purported letter to the CBI, he had claimed that Ghosh — along with one Indrajit Chandra — had “moulded” him to buy Global Automobiles with the assurance that the “company could generate Rs 55,000 crore per month if it can (be) run properly”. (It is not clear whether Sen meant Rs 55,000 crore — a stupendous amount — or had made a mistake). “(For) one-and-a-half years I repeatedly asked for papers and documents but they did not support me with a single paper…” according to the letter. “Apart from banks and Shantanu Ghosh, I have paid already not less than Rs 20 crore in various accounts like salary of the existing staffs, canteen expenses, huge outstanding from vendors, dealers and also to the excise department….”
This evening, Sen told reporters while he was being escorted to a police lock-up: “ I am very happy with the arrest. I have already named many. I intend to name a few more soon.”
Ghosh, who claimed to be a computer graduate from the US, had made his presence felt in Bengal in 2002 with his company Xenitis.
An SFI leader in his youth, Ghosh reportedly enjoyed the blessings of the then ruling Left Front and graduated from selling economic laptops to owning media houses.
“He was noticed when his company — Xenitis — launched the low-budget laptops that cost no more than Rs 10,000,” recalled a city businessman.
According to industry sources, Ghosh, who apparently started shifting his political allegiance as winds of change started sweeping Bengal, diversified into automobiles and started a factory in Hooghly.
ED officials claimed that Ghosh had sold Global Automobiles and a regional news channel to Sen for Rs 50 crore.
ED sources said the directorate was trying to establish whether an asset management company that had offered to buy Ghosh’s liabilities from the six public sector banks at a lower rate had been floated by Ghosh himself to dupe the consortium.
The sources said the asset management company entered the picture after Ghosh had repaid Rs 30 crore to the banks.
“In case the six public sector banks lodge a complaint of fraud, we may tag it with the money-laundering case,” an ED official said.
An agent and depositor has accused a Trinamul MLA’s private secretary who had set up a cash-collection company in Murshidabad of defaulting on repayment of Rs 1 lakh.
Mohammad Abu Sayem, private secretary to MLA Chand Mohammad, closed down the company last year.
Mohammad Golam Mostafa, the company agent who claims to have deposited Rs 10,000, lodged a complaint with the Murshidabad police chief today alleging his money and the Rs 90,000 he had collected had not been returned.
Abu Sayem claimed he had refunded “many depositors”.
Chand said: “If someone has lodged a complaint saying he wants his money back, Abu Sayem will have to repay him.”