BharatPe fraud: EOW spots date discrepancies

Ashneer Grover with wife Madhuri Jain.
Ashneer Grover with wife Madhuri Jain.

Summary

  • Eight HR consultancy firms hired by BharatPe shared the same registered address with the accused family members and relatives

NEW DELHI : Recruitment firms linked to BharatPe co-founder Ashneer Grover and his family members used backdated invoices to siphon off funds for work they never did for the fintech unicorn, an investigation by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Delhi Police found. The probe agency also could not trace many firms to which BharatPe had made vendor payments.

Eight human resources (HR) consultancy firms hired by BharatPe—Vardhaman Marketing, Impulse Marketing, Vista Services, Evolve Bizserve, Team Source, Team Works, True Work Co., Vikash Enterprises—shared the same registered address with the accused family members and relatives, EOW said. Of these, the first five submitted invoices mentioning bank account numbers that were not open at the time, meaning the invoices were created at a later date.

“The firms were established and their bank accounts were opened only for the purpose of siphoning off funds and for causing wrongful gain to the alleged persons," EOW said in a status report submitted to the Delhi high court.

Mint has seen a copy of the status report. Anyesh Rai, deputy commissioner of police, EOW, confirmed that the status report has been filed with Delhi high court and the investigation is under way.

In December 2022, BharatPe filed a criminal complaint against Grover, his wife and her family members, accusing them of perpetrating a 81.28 crore fraud. One of the allegations pertained to 7.6 crore that BharatPe allegedly paid eight HR consultants linked to the accused persons between 2018 and 2021. After the Delhi Police filed a first information report (FIR), Grover and his wife moved the court to cancel it and pause the investigation; however, the court declined the request, and directed the probe agency to update it on the investigation.

The registered addresses of all eight HR firms belong to the family members or relatives of Grover’s wife Madhuri Jain, EOW said. Citing the bank statements of HR firms, EOW said a total of 7.6 crore credited to these accounts came from BharatPe, and most of the money was debited in the form of self withdrawals. Other debit entries are in the name of accused persons or their companies, the EOW report said.

Madhuri Jain, who was head of controls at BharatPe, had asked the bank branch to speed up payments to these eight firms, EOW said, citing office emails.

Queries texted to Ashneer Grover remained unanswered. Madhuri Jain Grover declined to comment. BharatPe said it would not like to comment as the matter is sub-judice.

Bank accounts of three of the eight firms had the same email ID and phone number as one of the family members who is not a proprietor of any of these HR firms, the report noted.

Office emails also pointed to the involvement of a few relatives of Jain in misappropriating BharatPe’s funds through these eight firms, it said.

In 2020, Jain also got 1.50 crore from accounts linked to alleged proprietors of eight firms, who received the money from BharatPe.

“Proprietors of these firms could not produce any documents/justification with respect to payments received from BharatPe to show what kind of job/services were provided by their firms to BharatPe."

After Grover and Jain were ousted, BharatPe objected to the transfer of huge sums to the HR firms. Jain then returned most of the amount lying in the personal accounts of the proprietors of the HR consultancy firms, who happened to be her relatives. However, she received back that amount in her bank account routed through her relatives in a short span of time, the investigation found.

EOW also questioned some BharatPe employees who were allegedly recruited through these eight firms. However, “during their examination, all of them unanimously stated that they were recruited in BharatPe through references and recommendations, and were never contacted by any HR consultancy firm for the purpose of recruitment".

Another allegation by BharatPe pertained to the reversal of input tax credits and payments of penalty worth 1.66 crore to goods and services (GST) authorities, and embezzlement of 71.76 crore on the basis of fictitious transactions with over 30 non-existing or fake vendors.

A physical verification of 33 fake vendors found the addresses of 23 were not proper or non-traceable; only 10 firms’ addresses were found to be genuine. EOW added that a detailed investigation “is being conducted to unearth the complete racket behind these alleged bogus/fake firms that had obtained several crores of rupees on the pretext of supplying the goods to BharatPe".

The probe agency said the Director General of GST Intelligence (DGGI) has responded to its enquiry into alleged fake vendor firms, which had raised invoices to BharatPe and received payment. According to the DGGI reply, BharatPe reversed the amount of input tax credit availed by them and paid 12.75 crore towards GST liability and penalty.

EOW said the investigation is at an initial stage and replies from various authorities are yet to be examined, adding “Keeping in view of gravity of offence and investigation, the petition filed by Ashneer and his wife for the dismissal of the case is strongly opposed and may be dismissed in the interest of justice".

Last year, BharatPe also filed a civil lawsuit in the Delhi high court where it sought 88.67 crore in damages from Grover, his wife and family members.

Hindustan Times’ Sanjeev Kumar Jha in Delhi contributed to the story.

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