Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Chit fund firms duped depositors of Rs80,000 crore: CBI estimates

Central Bureau of Investigation officials say the amount is likely to be higher than the initial estimate as investigations are underway

New Delhi: Chit fund companies have duped thousands of depositors of at least 80,000 crore, according to estimates of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is probing such cases across the country.

People in the CBI who are familiar with the matter said the amount is likely to be higher than the initial estimate as investigations are underway.

These companies with operations across the country lured people by offering attractive interest rates and, in the case of Pearls Group, land.

Over 30,000 crore has allegedly been collected from small investors by chit fund companies operating in four eastern and north-eastern 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 51,000 crore, they said.

The deposits mobilized by the companies was allegedly used to purchase land, open media outlets, hotels and other businesses, denying depositors their dues.

The people said the figure of 80,000 crore is an estimate based on investigation so far and quantification of deposits collected from investors is still going on.

The CBI has till now registered 76 cases, based on over 253 first information reports in these four states with 31 charge sheets being filed by the agency in connection with the scam.

It has filed three cases against Rose Valley Group and seven against Saradha Group in connection with the fraud. They said over six crore people have been duped by the companies across the country with a majority of them allegedly being trapped by Pearls Group, which has been operating for the last 20 years before being busted by the CBI.

The sheer sweep of the scam makes it one of the most difficult cases to be investigated by the CBI in which several big operators including a former Union minister, a state minister, a member of Parliament, a former journalist and politicians are under investigation, the people said.

According to the CBI, a lot of paperwork is needed in probing economic offences such as chit fund scam as the flow of money is normally hidden in the form of a complex, layered data in files and computers.

The mining of data also requires forensic help, making it a time-consuming process. The people said the CBI suspects that such a big scam would not have been possible without some officials of regulators having ignored the operations of these companies.

The CBI has also questioned officials of the capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Reserve Bank of India (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 to CBI, said the investigation conducted so far puts a question mark on the role of regulatory authorities such as the registrar of companies, Sebi and RBI under whose respective jurisdictions and areas of operation the scam not only took birth but flourished unhindered.

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