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ED freezes assets worth Rs 508 crores in Mahadev Betting App case, says network was operated from Dubai

The agency is investigating a case against "Mahadev Online Book", which is an umbrella syndicate arranging online platforms for enabling illegal betting websites to enrol new users, create user IDs and launder money through a layered web of Benami bank accounts.

 The Enforcement Directorate has seized Rs 580.78 crore in assets related to the Mahadev Online Betting app case, asserting that its activities are being operated from Dubai.

The ED’s action occurred as the agency conducted raids at 15 locations targeting individuals suspected of involvement in money laundering networks associated with Mahadev Online Book in Kolkata, Gurugram, Delhi, Indore, Mumbai, and Raipur.

During the operation, the ED said it retrieved cash worth Rs 1.86 crore, valuables worth Rs 1.78 crore and also frozen and identified proceeds of crime worth Rs 580.78 crore. The searches also resulted in the seizure of a large amount of incriminating evidence, including digital data and the identification of assets.

The agency is investigating a case against “Mahadev Online Book”, which is an umbrella syndicate arranging online platforms for enabling illegal betting websites to enrol new users, create user IDs and launder money through a layered web of Benami bank accounts.

The ED initiated an investigation on the basis of First Information Reports (FIRs) registered by Chhattisgarh Police. Subsequently, other FIRs registered by Visakhapatnam Police and other states were also taken on record.

An ED investigation into the matter has revealed that “the operations of Mahadev Online Book are being run from Dubai and it operates by franchising ‘panel and branches’ to their known associates on a 70 per cent to 30 per cent profit ratio.”

“The main promoters of Mahadev Online Book are also partners and promoters in multiple such online betting books like ‘Reddy Anna’ and ‘Fairplay’. Large-scale hawala operations are done to syphon off the proceeds of betting proceeds to off-shore accounts,” said the agency.

In the course of further investigation, the ED successfully identified other major players involved with the promoters of Mahadev Online Book.

“It was found that one Hari Shankar Tibrewal, who hails from Kolkata but is currently residing in Dubai, is a huge hawala operator and has partnered with the promoters of Mahadev Online Book. ED conducted searches at his known premises and at the premises of his associates. The searches revealed that Hari Shankar Tibrewal owned and operated one of the illegal betting websites, such as SkyExchange.

“He, through his Dubai-based entities, was investing the betting proceeds in the Indian Stock market by way of the Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) route. He had also employed many of his associates as Director in various companies which were involved in layering of the betting proceeds by investing them in the stock market. He was also involved in large-scale hawala movement of the betting funds,” said the ED.

Accordingly, security holdings worth Rs 580.78 crore in the name of the entities beneficially owned by Hari Shankar Tibrewal have been frozen by ED under PMLA 2002.

Earlier in this case, movable properties totalling Rs 572.41 crore were seized and frozen during searches conducted under the PMLA, 2002. Two provisional attachment orders have been issued, attaching movable and immovable properties valued at Rs 142.86 crore.

Prosecution complaints dated October 20, 2023, and January 1 of this year have been filed in the case. Nine accused have already been apprehended in connection with the case. Thus, total attachment and freezing in the case stand at Rs 1,296.05 crore.

The move comes almost a month after the federal agency arrested two individuals, Nitin Tibrewal from Kolkata and Amit Agrawal from Raipur. Both accused were arrested in the second week of January.

Earlier, the ED had arrested alleged accused Asim Das, Bheem Singh Yadav, Chandrabhushan Verma, Anil Kumar Agrawal, Sunil Dammani, and Satish Chandrakar. The agency stated that the illicit funds generated by the app were used to bribe politicians and bureaucrats.

In November last year, the ED had also conducted searches against the money laundering networks linked with the alleged Mahadev Book Online Betting App, which led to the recovery of cash worth Rs 5.39 crore and a bank balance of Rs 15.59 crore.

Several celebrities and Bollywood actors have also been summoned by the agency for questioning regarding their connections with the online betting platform and the payment methods involved.

ED has filed two charge sheets in the Mahadev app case, including against the main promoters, Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal. The two promoters were recently detained in Dubai based on an Interpol red notice, and ED is working on their deportation or extradition to India.

The first charge sheet alleges that Chandrakar spent around Rs 200 crore in cash for his wedding in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, in February 2023. The agency claims that private jets were hired to transport Chandrakar’s relatives, and celebrities were paid for performances. The projected proceeds of crime in this case are estimated at Rs 6,000 crore.

The agency filed the second charge sheet before a special court in Raipur on January 1 of this year.

The about 1,700-1,800 page fresh charge sheet specifically named five accused, including alleged cash courier Asim Das, police constable Bheem Singh Yadav, and Shubham Soni, a prominent executive linked to the app, among others.

Das and Yadav were arrested by the agency in November last year, just before the first phase of polling for the assembly polls in Chhattisgarh.

Soni, who had claimed to be the owner of the app, earlier issued a video statement and sent an affidavit to the ED claiming to have “proof” about kickbacks paid to politicians and their linked persons for allowing the app to run its illegal businesses without any legal action.

ED previously asserted that Mahadev app promoters paid approximately Rs 508 crore to former Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel. These claims, made just before the state assembly polls, were denied by Baghel, who labelled them as attempts to malign his image. The Congress party termed it vendetta politics by the Centre.

Chandrakar and Uppal, originally from Bhilai town in Chhattisgarh, are associated with the Mahadev online betting app, which is accused of facilitating illegal betting websites.

(This news report is published from a syndicated feed. Except for the headline, the content has not been written or edited by OpIndia staff)

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