The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday said it was probing an alleged payment of about ₹508 crore by the Mahadev betting app promoters, who are facing serious criminal charges, to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel over a period of time.
The ED’s statement came a day after the agency conducted searches in the poll-bound State and intercepted ₹5.39 crore, following a tip-off that a large amount of cash was being moved at the instance of the app promoters in relation to the Assembly polls on November 7 and 17.
The agency said it carried out searches at Hotel Triton and another location in Bhilai and intercepted a cash courier, Asim Das, who was sent from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) especially to deliver the cash for “electioneering expenses of the ruling Congress party”.
The ED seized the cash purportedly from Mr. Das’s vehicle and his residence. “Das has admitted that the seized funds were arranged by the Mahadev app promoters to be delivered to one politician ‘Baghel’ for the upcoming election expenses” in Chhattisgarh, it said.
The agency alleged that it also detected some “benami” bank accounts of the app, in which the total balance of about ₹15.59 crore was frozen. The ED arrested Mr. Das.
“From the questioning of Das, and from the forensic examination of the phone recovered from him, and examination of an email sent by Shubam Soni [one of the high-ranking accused of Mahadev network] many startling allegations have come forth,” said the ED release.
“…namely, that regular payments have been made in the past and so far around ₹508 crore have been paid by Mahadev app promoters to Bhupesh Baghel, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. These are subject matters of investigation,” it added.
The ED had earlier questioned and arrested one police constable, Bheem Yadav. As alleged, in the past three years, he had made unauthorised visits to Dubai; met main accused Ravi Uppal and Sourabh Chandrakar; and had participated in the gala functions of Mahadev app, it said.
The constable’s travel expenses were borne by Rapid Travels of Ahuja Brothers, allegedly a money laundering and ticketing company of the app. “He was the conduit to receive bribe money from Mahadev app promoters for the benefit of senior officers and politicians of Chhattisgarh,” the ED alleged.
The two arrested accused were produced before a Raipur special court that sent them to seven-day ED custody. The agency has so far arrested four persons in the case, seized assets worth ₹450 crore, and filed a prosecution complaint against 14 accused persons.
According to the ED, the app was an umbrella syndicate that arranged online platforms for enabling illegal betting websites to enrol new users, create IDs and launder ill-gotten money via a complex web of “benami” bank accounts.
Accused Ravi Uppal and Sourabh Chandrakar, who are from Bhilai, ran the network from Dubai in the UAE.
“The sudden and illegal riches are being openly flaunted by them. In February 2023, Mr. Chandrakar got married at RAK [Ras Al-Khaimah], UAE, and for this marriage ceremony the promoters of Mahadev app spent around ₹200 crore in cash. Private jets were hired to ferry family members from Nagpur to the UAE,” the agency had earlier said.
As alleged, cash payments were made to event planners, executors and several celebrities, including from Bollywood, using “hawala” channels for performing at the wedding.
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