The Enforcement Directorate took notice of a lavish wedding that took place in February in the United Arab Emirates because all of the money—roughly Rs 200 crore—spent on the party was paid in cash. According to the ED, Sourabh Chandrakar, one of the promoters of an online betting platform, hired private jets to fly family members from Nagpur to the UAE for his wedding while also paying actors to perform. The wedding took place in Ras Al Khaimah.
On Friday, the agency released details of its investigation into the online money laundering case linked with the Mahadev Online Book Betting app. Wedding planners, dancers, decorators, etc. were hired from Mumbai and hawala channels were used to make payments in cash.
“Sudden and illegal riches are being openly flaunted by them,” the ED said in a statement. Mahadev Online Book Betting App is an umbrella syndicate arranging online platforms for enabling illegal betting websites to enroll new users, create user IDs, and launder money through a layered web of Benami bank accounts.
The ED said Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, who hail from Bhilai in Chattisgarh, are the two main promoters of the Mahadev betting platform and ran their operations from Dubai. They had created an empire for themselves in that country. The agency had recently conducted searches at 39 locations across Raipur, Bhopal, Mumbai, and Kolkata and seized illegal assets worth Rs 417 crore. ED has also earnestly taken up investigations abroad.
A Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) special court at Raipur has also issued non-bailable warrants against the suspects. The ED which is investigating money laundering charges in connection with the Mahadev Online Book app, had last month conducted searches in Chhattisgarh and arrested four accused, including the chief liaisoner of the betting syndicate, which the probe agency alleged was organizing payment of bribes to senior government functionaries as ‘protection money.’
“Their Mahadev Online Book is run from a central head office in the UAE and operates by franchising ‘Panel/Branches’ to their known associates on a 70%-30% profit ratio. Large-scale hawala operations are done to siphon off the proceeds of betting to offshore accounts. Large expenditures in cash are also being made in India for advertising of betting websites and self-grandizement necessary to attract new users and franchise (panel) seekers,” the ED said. As per assets seized by the ED, Rs 112 crore was delivered via hawala channel to an event management company — R-1 Events Pvt Ltd of Yogesh Popat — and hotel bookings costing to the tune of Rs 42 crore were done by paying in cash in Arab Emirates Dirham.
Searches were conducted by the central agency at the premises of Yogesh Popat, Mithilesh, and other “linked organizers” and evidence relating to the receipt of Rs 112 crore hawala money is “crystallized”. Subsequently, searches were conducted on angadias named by Yogesh Popat. The searches resulted in the seizure of unaccounted cash worth Rs 2.37 crore. It was found that many celebrities have been endorsing these betting entities and performing at their functions in return for hefty fees layered through dubious transactions but ultimately paid from the proceeds of online betting.
ED also conducted searches on Rapid Travels of Dheeraj Ahuja and Vishal Ahuja in Bhopal. This entity was responsible for the entire ticketing operations of the Mahadev app promoters, family, business associates, and celebrities.
“The illicit cash earnings from the betting panels were cleverly deposited by the Ahuja brothers with the main ticket providers, and the wallet balance was used to book domestic and international tickets. Rapid Travels was involved in making travel arrangements for most events of the Mahadev group, including the annual star-studded events organized in the UAE in the month of September,” the ED said. The ED stated that it has successfully identified other major players involved in the money laundering operations of the Mahadev online booking app.
During the investigations, it was found that one Kolkata-based Vikash Chhaparia was handling all the hawala-related operations for the Mahadev app. ED conducted searches at his known premises and at those of his associate, Govind Kedia.
It was found that with the help of Govind Kedia, Vikas Chaparia, through his entities, Perfect Plan Investments LLP, Exim General Trading FZCO, and Techpro IT Solutions LLC, was investing heavily in the Indian stock market through the Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) route. Accordingly, cash derivatives and other security holdings worth Rs 236.3 crore in the names of entities beneficially owned by Vikas Chhaparia have been frozen by the ED under PMLA 2002.
Further, assets worth Rs 160 crore in the demat holdings of Govind Kumar Kedia have also been frozen by the ED under PMLA 2002. Searches at the premises of Govind Kumar Kedia also resulted in the seizure of Indian currency worth Rs 18 lakhs, gold, and jewelry valued at Rs 13 crore.