New Delhi: Almost seven years and seven directors later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has still not been able to complete its investigation in the Saradha chit fund scam where more than 20 lakh small investors of West Bengal lost their life’s savings to politicians, many of whom are now either contesting the West Bengal elections or deciding election strategies and candidates for their respective parties.
The then Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, while handing over the case to CBI on 9 May 2014, had stated that the step was necessitated as the “the (WB) state police has not been able to make any headway in the conspiracy angle, money trail and the seizure of the properties related to the scam”. However, as the facts clearly prove, the Supreme Court’s intent behind taking the case from the West Bengal state police and handing it over to the CBI, which was to identify and punish the political entities, has failed to materialize. When the case was handed over to the CBI, the agency was then headed by Ranjit Sinha; since then, six more directors have graced the post.
Thakur had directed the CBI to take over the case while hearing multiple PILs seeking a CBI inquiry into the scam, something that was vehemently opposed by the state government till the very last day. Within days of the case being transferred to the CBI, it filed 46 FIRs in the case.
According to agency officials, who were a part of the investigation, and have now “moved on”, the agency wanted to wrap up the investigation by early 2016. With that deadline in mind, the agency filed multiple charge-sheets in the case and had already completed the content of the final charge-sheet, which, according to these officials, exposed the alleged role played by several political leaders and one in particular who is now in a very prominent position.
The agency filed its first charge-sheet in the case in October 2014, after which it filed a series of charge-sheets in November 2014, April 2015, August 2015, December 2015. Another charge-sheet filed in January 2019 named Nalini Chidambaram, wife of former Home and Finance minister P. Chidambaram.
The final charge-sheet, which focused on the roles played by politicians, was supposed to be filed by April 2016, but never saw the light of day due to “extraneous reasons”, an agency official told The Sunday Guardian.
“The investigation is already completed; it just needs to be filed before the court concerned. We have done our part, now it is for the decision-makers to tell us when to submit the charge-sheet. It will be wrong to say that the agency has not been able to complete the investigation, the investigation is complete,” an official said.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to CBI spokesperson R.C. Joshi for a status on the case and the reason behind the delay in completing the investigation, but no response was received.
As per the affidavit filed by the West Bengal state government in the Kolkata High Court and later in the Supreme Court, the value of the property acquired by the Saradha Group of companies through the chit-fund money was an estimated Rs 40 crore against a total collection of Rs 2,460 crore that it got from the investors.
A forensic audit report prepared by the Security Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which was also placed in court, stated that investors in this chit fund were promised astronomically high returns by way of interest rate that ranged from 10% to 18%. As many as 221,000 agents were working for the Saradha group, who were paid an unreasonably high brokerage of 30% which became the driving force for these agents to collect as much as possible from gullible investors.
The report had further stated that the company never had any intention of doing any legitimate business activity and the money collected from the public was spread over 160 companies. These companies had opened more than 550 bank accounts for round tripping transactions that were spread over several states, including West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Assam and other states. It was one of eastern India’s biggest deposit-taking firms, which finally went bust in April 2013.
While hearing the case, the Supreme Court had raised a question mark on the role of regulatory authorities like SEBI, Registrar of Companies and officials of the RBI within whose respective jurisdictions and areas of operation, the scam not only took birth, but flourished unhindered.