Patna, Aug. 11: The special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the state government to probe the "fund transfer scam" involving a Bhagalpur-based non-government organisation today arrested seven persons, even as authoritative sources claimed that the scam has crossed Rs 500-crore mark with fraudulent withdrawal over Rs 150 crore from neighbouring Saharsa district being revealed.
The arrested persons have been identified as Prem Kumar, a stenographer in the office of the Bhagalpur district magistrate (DM), Rakesh Yadav, nazir (accountant) in the district rural development agency, Rakesh Jha, nazir in the land acquisition office, Ajay Pandey, clerk with Indian Bank, Satish Chandra Jha, retired sub-divisional audit officer, Wanshidhar Jha, a private computer operator, and Sarita Jha, manager of Srijan.
The SIT, headed by inspector-general (IG) of police, economic offences unit (EOU) Jitendra Singh Gangwar, has also detained the Bhagalpur district land acquisition officer and an official of the Indian Bank for interrogation.
IG Gangwar told reporters in Bhagalpur today that the arrests were made on the basis of evidences gathered during the investigation in the past three days.
Amit Kumar and Priya Kumar alias Priya Sinha, son and daughter-in-law of late Manorama Devi, the founder secretary of Srijan, who used to run the NGO after Manorama's death, are absconding.
Bhagalpur senior superintendent of police Manoj Kumar, who is part of the SIT, said the investigating officials were trying to obtain the list of the beneficiaries, who would be quizzed later to ascertain how money was transferred to their bank accounts.
Gangwar revealed that 20 other officials of the EOU, including cyber experts and those having good knowledge of finance, have been included in the investigation team.
The intelligence wings of the banks were also trying to find out how such huge sums of money were transferred to the bank account of the NGO from the accounts maintained by the district administration.
Preliminary investigation has revealed that Rs 48 crore of Srijan Mahila Bank, a cooperative bank the NGO runs, has also gone missing.
Bhagalpur deputy development commissioner Amit Kumar has ordered to update all bank accounts of the district welfare department and the municipal corporation.
Nearly 50 accounts of the district rural development agency were being verified, an investigating officer said.
The investigating officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that the amount involved in the scam may cross the Rs 500-crore mark.
So far, three FIRs have been lodged in connection with swindling of Rs 302.7 crore in the district, out of which Rs 270 crore was meant for land acquisition.
A senior police officer associated with the investigation explained how the government funds were transferred to the bank accounts of Srijan.
"Once the DM (district magistrate) used to issue the cheque to the bank concerned, transferring funds from nazarat (treasury) to the said bank, the staff member in his office used to stamp a fake signature of the DM on the back of the cheque with instruction to deposit the money to the account of the NGO. Subsequently, the bank official used to deposit the money in the NGO's account," the officer said.
When the DM issued a new cheque for government expenses, the money was sent back to the account of the district administration from the NGO's account so that the DM's cheque would not bounce and no one would get to know that government money was being pilfered, the investigating officer said.
The other way that the fraudsters had adopted to transfer the funds to the NGO's account, revealed the investigating official, was through a separate chequebook that a staff at the DM's office got issued from the bank concerned using a forged signature of the DM. The staff member used to issue cheques to Srijan.
"The fraud couldn't be detected for long as the NGO's staff used to get false account statements for government accounts printed at its office and provide the same to the DM's office when required," the officer said, adding that a laptop was recovered from the possession of one of the arrested persons, which provided a lead into the details of the scam.
Additional reporting by Gautam Sarkar in Bhagalpur