Wednesday 29 June 2022
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Kolkata’s football clubs in the net

Saradha series logoKolkata — Interrogation of officials of prominent football clubs of Kolkata by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is on. On Monday, the East Bengal Football Club’s Kalyan Majumdar, secretary, Shantiranjan Dasgupta, joint-secretary, Debdas Samajdar, treasurer, and Tapan Das, cashier, were questioned at the CGO complex in the Salt Lake area for about 21/2 hours. They were asked how money from Saradha group had been spent. The East Bengal officials submitted to the ED some documents in response.

Related development 1
This week the ED seized and sealed a four-storey building in Madhyamgram on Jessore Road, reportedly owned by the Saradha group though no office of the group is located therein. In the evening on Monday, 3 ED officers arrived at the building and hung a notice of seizure at the building’s entrance.

While the Mohunbagan Athletic Club’s officials did not visit the ED office, they sent across some relevant documents.

Sudipta Sen, head of the Saradha group, had invested money in all these clubs. Debabrata Sarkar (alias Nitu) of East Bengal is already in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) custody. He was interrogated by the ED before being arrested. Sources in the ED say that the actual amount Saradha invested in these clubs far exceeds what had been unearthed by preliminary inquiry into the financial scandal. East Bengal, for example, had received almost Rs 5 crore from the Ponzi group. It is on knowing this fact that officials of the football clubs were summoned to the ED office again.

Related development 2

Elsewhere, in a bid to put a check on Ponzi schemes surfacing across the country, SEBI chairman Sinha held a meeting with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, SEBI officers and chief secretaries of different States in this regard. The chief secretaries have been instructed to take stern action against all Ponzi firms operating in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The SEBI chairman also assured States governments of full cooperation of his agency.

After summoning Majumdar, the agency asked him about the exact contract between the Saradha group and the club. The three officials gave the details of expenditure to the ED. On 19 September, East Bengal FC, the conglomerate of the club with its sponsor, will be interrogated.

Investigators say some clubs camouflaged their assets in a company while the parent club — registered under the Societies Act — continued to bleed. Some of these clubs began as societies under the Societies Act. Gradually, they formed a parallel company and the club started being governed by both. Some of these clubs received money through the society but transferred the sponsorship money to the company. This helped them fiddle with the balance-sheet and stash money in other entities, say ED sources.

East Bengal, as the club is referred to by the local people, is registered under the Societies Registration Act. While its balance sheet shows that it was reeling under financial crunch, ED officials could not find where Sudipta’s money went, say sources. Later while going through the details, officials found that money from Saradha was instantly transferred from the society to another entity — United East Bengal Football Team Pvt Ltd, say sources. ED officials feel that the money was transferred the moment it entered accounts of the society.

The club changed its name in 2013 and renamed itself as East Bengal Football Team. There was no mention of Saradha being a sponsor in the annual report. There was no mention of Saradha money in their accounts lying with the regulatory authority, either. Subsequently the club officials submitted the documents of their agreements with the Saradha Group.

Sources in East Bengal say the ED has asked them to return the sum. The club’s problem is, the money has been spent on players.

A source in the ED said that, among officials of the other clubs — Kalighat Milan Sangha and Bhowanipore Sporting — that have been summoned, there are members of the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in West Bengal, or are known for their proximity to the party. These four clubs received ‘grants’ from the Saradha group between 2008 and 2013. Hence, the ED has asked for their sponsorship contracts as well as balance sheets for examination.

A day after questioning 4 East Bengal Club officials, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) quizzed 3 Kalighat MS Football Club officials including its secretary Bablu Koley and found Saradha Group sponsorship of around Rs 30 lakhs to the club from 2009 to 2011. Getting the summons, they appeared before the ED investigators in the morning. The questioning lasted for nearly 11/2 hour.

Later Koley said, “Our club had entered into an agreement with Saradha Group for sponsorship. The ED officials had sought copies of the agreement and other related financial documents including balance sheets which we submitted to them. They did not ask anything more.” Asked to elaborate about the sponsorship agreement, he said that the club received nearly Rs 12.5 lakhs from Saradha Group in 2009-10 financial year while nearly Rs 17.5 lakhs in the next fiscal on that account.

The ED is now examining the financial documents. The agency has plans to summon officials of some more clubs including Bhowanipore Sporting.

Next: Involvement of former police officers.

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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