Chit fund companies have duped thousands of gullible depositors of at least Rs. 80,000 crore, according to estimates of CBI which is probing such cases across the country.
Agency sources said the amount is likely to be higher than the initial estimate as the probe is still on. These companies with operations across the country lured people by offering attractive interest rates and, in the case of Pearls Group, land.
Over Rs. 30,000 crore has allegedly been collected from small investors by the chit fund companies operating in four eastern and northeastern states — West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Tripura, while Pearls Group which operates in Punjab and other north Indian states duped investors to the tune of Rs. 51,000 crore, they said.
The deposits mobilised by the companies was allegedly used to purchase land, open media outlets, hotels and other businesses, denying depositors their dues. The sources said the figure of Rs. 80,000 crore is an estimate based on investigation so far and quantification of deposits collected from investors is still going on.
CBI has so far registered 76 cases, based on over 253 FIRs in these four states with 31 charge-sheets being filed by the agency in connection with the scam. The agency has filed three cases against Rose Valley Group and seven against Saradha Group in connection with the fraud, called Saradha scam.
The sources said over six crore people have been duped by the companies across the country with majority of them allegedly being trapped by Pearls Group which has been operating for last 20 years before being busted by the agency.
The sheer sweep of the scam makes it one of the most difficult cases to be investigated by the agency in which several big operators including a former Union Minister, a state minister, an MP, a former journalist and politicians are being probed by it, they said.
The agency said a lot of paper work is needed in probing economic offences like chit fund scam as flow of money is normally hidden in form of complex, layered data in files and computers. The mining of data also requires forensic help, making it a time consuming process. They said the agency suspects that such a big scam would not have been possible without some officials of regulators having ignored the operations of these companies. The agency has questioned officials of SEBI and RBI in this regard.
Recently, CBI Director Anil Sinha had said about the Pearls Group, which is the largest chit fund group being investigated for alleged malpractices, that “it needed the Supreme Court to step in and order investigations and later order return of money to the depositors under its supervision. Should not the regulator have suo motu stepped in proactively to protect the rights of 5.5 crore ordinary depositors.”
The Supreme Court, while handing over the probe in the case to CBI, had said investigation conducted so far puts a question mark on the role of regulatory authorities like SEBI, Registrar of Companies and officials of RBI within whose respective jurisdictions and areas of operation the scam not only took birth but flourished unhindered.