Owners of the Mahadev online betting app are suspected to have links in Pakistan apart from association with local businessmen and hawala operations, Enforcement Directorate sources told News18. The ED, which has been investigating the betting scam, is now likely to seek cooperation from global anti-money laundering agencies based on fresh details unearthed, sources added.
The company promoted by Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, which was running operations from Dubai, was allegedly using the online book betting application to enrol new users, create user IDs and launder money through a layered web of benami bank accounts. The monetary value of the scam is already estimated to have reached Rs 5,000 crore and may rise further as the investigation progresses.
An investigation into 28-year-old Sourabh Chandrakar was prompted by his lavish Rs 250-crore wedding in the UAE, following which investigators stumbled upon the details of alleged hawala operations and their connections in the UAE and Pakistan. Around eight major international hawala operators are under the scanner for laundering money to Middle East countries and to Pakistan by running a similar portal. Chandrakar and his associates allegedly used at least 70 shell companies to launder money to offshore accounts.
Celebrities Under the Scanner
Sources in the ED said as many as 17 Bollywood celebrities, including Shradha Kapoor, Tiger Shroff, Sonakshi Sinha and others, are under the scanner for attending or performing at Chandrakar’s wedding in February this year and the company’s success party in September last year.
“The celebrities accepted a huge amount of cash as remuneration for attending or performing at the wedding. The money is proceeds of the crime and the celebrities are liable for taking the money. There are more than a dozen celebrities who participated in the wedding and they are seen in the videos,” said a senior source in the ED.
The anti-money laundering agency is now exploring options to seek cooperation from international agencies to take legal action against the app owner, who is currently in the UAE.
The directorate has already raided several premises related to hawala operators across cities in India and attached Rs 417 crore. During a recent raid in Mumbai, the ED also tracked seven hawala kingpins who allegedly laundered the money. “Each hawala operator handled more than 500 dummy accounts to launder money,” a source told News 18.
Weather to Politics, Everything Up for Betting
The Mahadev betting apps have different games, lotteries and betting options for everything under the sun, including the prediction of election results, weather, matches etc. These have been operational for the past four years. The online app, like other Ponzi schemes such as Saradha and Rose Valley scams, targeted the lower income group. The games, the lotteries and betting options were all rigged where the ‘players’ always lost money and the company gained.
Chandrakar, whose company allegedly gained around Rs 5,000 crore through the scam, started as a juice-seller in Chhattisgarh. His educational qualification is still unknown. A recent raid at the residence of Vinod Verma, political advisor to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, blew the lid off the former’s alleged connections with the betting company, said a second source in the ED.
Following the raids, Verma, addressing the media, accused the ED of building a case against him based on “fictional” details and called the raids “dacoity”.
The second ED officer quoted above, however, claimed that the agency has seized “incriminating evidence” indicative of Verma’s alleged complicity and connections with the betting company. A police officer was arrested for taking “protection money” and working as a liaison for the company, the ED officer said.
“We are probing the connections between the money launderers, the hawala operators and some senior civil service officers and politicians,” added the officer.
The ED has clubbed at least seven FIRs filed by the victims of the scam who lost their money. The FIRs were filed across locations, including Goa, Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad and Chhattisgarh.