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WB, N-E Hot-bed Of Investment Frauds; NRIs Major Target: Probe
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Amid a raging controversy over alleged cheating of gullible investors by Saradha group, the regulators have found that West Bengal and North-Eastern states have become a hot-bed of such frauds and NRIs from these regions account for a large chunk of defrauded people.
While the Centre has announced an SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office) probe into the affairs of Kolkata-based Saradha group and other such entities across the country, market regulator Sebi is also investigating illegal money-pooling activities of many such groups.
While the capital markets regulator is focussing its probe on violation of Collective Investment Scheme (CIS) norms by these companies, it has prima facie come across various instances of funds being channelled to and from other countries and these cases, after further probe, could be referred to other agencies like the Enforcement Directorate, RBI and other agencies, a senior official said.
The Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department have already begun their own respective investigations into the matter and assistance could be sought from RBI and other regulatory and enforcement agencies as well, he added.
The preliminary probe into Saradha group and other continuing investigations into various other entities also shows that West Bengal and North-Eastern states like Assam and Tripura have become the favourite hunting grounds of the companies engaged in illegal money collection activities.
Besides, a large number of NRIs having origins in these states are understood to have been defrauded by many such companies, including Saradha group.
The regulators have found that almost none of the entities alleged to have defrauded the gullible investors are actually registered as or running chit fund companies, although their investment schemes are commonly known as 'chit funds' in the region.
Capital market regulator Sebi has already passed an order against one group entity, Saradha Realty India, asking it to wind up all collective investment schemes and refund the money collected from investors.
Besides, Sebi is also probing at least ten other Saradha entities for raising funds without the regulator's approval.
The Income Tax Department would also soon start its investigations into the activities of this group.
The decision to order a probe came after a meeting taken by the Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot of the top ministry officials yesterday, where activities of Saradha group and other money-pooling entities were discussed.
Besides Saradha group, the meeting also deliberated on steps required to check suspected fraudulent activities of other chit fund companies, sources said.
In the past, the Ministry had received complaints of alleged ponzi schemes at 73 companies of about a dozen different groups in West Bengal. These complaints, which also include those against Saradha group entities, were referred to concerned agencies and departments by the Ministry.
Saradha group has more than 100 firms registered with the RoC (Registrar of Companies) for businesses across sectors including real estate, auto, education and entertainment.
Most of these companies are registered with names starting with 'Saradha', while there are also firms with other names. Authorities are already looking into alleged ponzi or multi-level marketing schemes of at least ten Saradha firms.
Majority of the group's firms are into real estate. These include Saradha Build-Dev, Saradha Realty India, Saradha Infra Properties, Saradha Township, Saradha Villa and Saradha Housing. The group also has registered companies related to education, exports, automobiles, shopping mall, agro development, tour and travels, among others.