By hacking into the agency’s web-based accounts, some officials and agents of the Saradha Group made depositors’ money worth hundreds of crores disappear, the Enforcement Directorate suspects.
A report by Sharat Associates, the firm appointed by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that is conducting the forensic audit of Saradha’s accounts, says that Saradha had collected Rs 2,450 crore from investors. Of this, almost Rs 600 crore is unaccounted for. The ED suspects that about Rs 100 crore of the amount that figures against the names of the respective depositors in the soft copies of the accounts have actually ended up in the pockets of Saradha’s officials and agents.
An ED sleuth says that a software package called Safari used to issue to every investor in Saradha a policy certificate that looked like the normal policy certificates issued by life insurance companies. The certificate mentioned the amount invested, date of deposit, date of maturity of the investment and the amount due to the investor at the end of the maturity period. This software turned into a tool in the hands of the swindlers, suspects the ED.
The ED has raided the two offices of the developer of Safari, a firm called Webspider Private Limited, in Kolkata. In the interrogation that followed, the firm’s high-ranking officer Suman Shastri has revealed that it was impossible to invest in Saradha without going through the Safari route. Hence, the Safari software contains the details of all investments made in Saradha as well as the returns it gave. The money was collected in the different branches of Saradha. The branch heads were privy to the passwords of the accounts in the respective branch offices. Im many cases it has been found that, while an entry has been made against a depositor, the amount mentioned has not been received by Saradha. In these cases, the agents usurped the money, the ED feels.
Furthermore, Saradha was supposed to close the accounts of investors who could not continue paying the premium installments after paying them back the principal amounts. But the software continued to show them as running accounts. In such cases, either an official of Saradha’s branch or the agent that brought the investor appropriated the amount payable on maturity. There are also instances where a wrong amount has been shown as that payable to the investor while the balance was stolen by officials or agents.
Now the question is whether this was happening without the knowledge of the owners of the Saradha Group. The ED believes Saradha head Sudipta Sen is not computer-savvy. Chances are, therefore, high that he was unaware of these acts of embezzlement. He first got an inkling of the developments in November 2012 when it was too late. On 16 April 2013, the Saradha Group shut its shop. Yet, some more entries of deposit are shown after that date, whose whereabouts could not be ascertained so far. Throughout April last year, about Rs 3 crore was withdrawn as liability from Saradha. This amount is untraceable, too. This way, a total of about Rs 100 crore went missing.
The prime suspects are some agents, led by a certain character called Arindam Das alias Bumba, based in 24 Parganas. Baruipur-based Bumba was arrested by Salt Lake Police a few days after the Saradha scandal surfaced. He was arrested while trying to flee from a place at eastern Jadavpur. His accomplices and other suspects will be interrogated soon, ED officers have informed.