Kolkata: When the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided three stores of Adrija Gold Corp. Ltd in Kolkata last week, officers recovered at the end of their two-day search valuables worth at least Rs40 crore.
But that’s small change compared to what may have been diverted through this jewellery retailing arm of the now defunct Rose Valley group, said multiple officers of the central agency.
ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have been probing the Rose Valley group’s illegitimate deposit collection business since early 2014 under direction from the Supreme Court.
Back in November 2014, ED had attached 2,630 bank accounts of the group, which led to a cash haul of Rs296 crore. But, surprisingly, Adrija Gold was never raided until 27 December. And the haul was “underwhelming", as one officer put it.
According to the estimates of the two agencies, the group had collected a staggering Rs15,000-17,000 crore of public deposits.
ED officials said the agency was restrained from taking any “coercive step" by a Calcutta high court order from September 2015.
The interim order said the court had decided to “stay (the ED’s) hands...for the time being", but it took the agency over two years to start probing Adrija.
Officially, the agency claims not much may have been lost. “Our preliminary study doesn’t appear to show diversion of money over the past 27 months," said S.D. Chand, joint director of ED.
Other officers, however, have a different view. The delay was needless, said two officers, who asked not to be named. The court had restrained the ED from taking any coercive step against Rose Valley Real Estate and Constructions Ltd, a firm that had made a long term loan of over Rs100 crore to Adrija, these officers said.
By early 2015, Rose Valley group chairman Gautam Kundu, the founder shareholder, had withdrawn from Adrija. He had transferred his ownership and had stepped down from its board. The only connection with the group was the long term loan from the real estate firm.
Following the September 2015 court order, the then investigating officer, Manoj Kumar, decided not to expand the investigation, said the officers cited above. But earlier this year, Kumar was ousted from the agency on charges of corruption. The police in Kolkata have started a criminal investigation against Kumar—in May, he surrendered before a city court and was sent to police custody. He secured bail in June.
Kumar, who has previously denied the charges, wasn’t available for comments.
After Kumar was removed from the investigation, the agency studied and obtained counsel on the restraints thought to have been imposed by the Calcutta high court order, said the officers cited above.
Adrija was a channel open for diversion of cash from the principal deposit collection business of the Rose Valley group, which had also invested in several hotels. At one point, the group claimed it had 23 hotels at various stages of completion.
Most of the diversion had happened before demonetization, said the ED officers, adding that Adrija was on the scanner of the income tax department as well in the wake of cancellation of high denomination currency notes.