Chaggan Bhujbal is alleged to have used sky-high valuation of shell companies to collect money, in return for giving out largesse. This is an increasingly popular trick with Indian politicians turned “businessmen”
There was a time when politicians did politics and used businessmen to raise money as they approached the elections. Then politicians started being sleeping partners in business ventures and then, they themselves became businessmen in their own right – owning real estate, education and other service businesses. But the most sophisticated of their moves has been to create shell companies whose shares are sold to businessmen at a stupendous premium (per share), ensuring neatly laundered, possibly tax paid wealth for our netas. There is no need for benami holding. It is all white and perfectly legal. Those, who bought shares on these shell companies usually, got concessions, mines, and large tracts of land in return.
It was Jagan Reddy, under the benign watch of his saintly father, the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy, who brazenly dispensed with the multiple layers, to hide true identity. That is why the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is having such a field day digging into his wealth-generation network and linkages with top politicians of Andhra Pradesh (AP).
It turns out that the trick is now spreading across other states. One politician who has taken to this neat trick and is just as brazen is Chaggan Bhujbal, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) strongman who struts around in designer suits, and has already built a massive education empire on prime property all over Maharashtra. Now, Kirit Somiaya, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had done a sting operation to put Mr Bhujbal in the headlines. According to the grapevine, Mr Bhujbal’s problems partly stem from a disastrous falling out that he had with a chartered accountant Mr Sunil Karve, who presided over his educational empire. That dispute is under litigation.
In the Bhujbal case, Mr Kirit Somiaya, a former Member of Parliament (MP) and investor activist, established before the media that 11 companies including
Mangal Sago Pvt Ltd and Minu Tex Processors Pvt Ltd allegedly purchased shares in Parvesh Construction Pt Ltd, which belongs to the NCP leader and PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal. These companies did not exist at their state registered address which was a housing society called Coral Crest at Navi Mumbai. The others were Ashok Investment Corporation Pvt Ltd, Discovery Buildcon Pvt Ltd, Greenline Vyapaar Pvt Ltd, Hingora Fabvest Pvt Ltd, Nihon Commodities Pvt Ltd, Presidency Merchants' Pvt Ltd, Sneha Residency Pvt Ltd, Sunview Retail Pvt Ltd and Universal Resources India.
These companies bought shares of Parvesh Constructions at Rs10,000 each for a face value of Rs100 i.e. a premium of 9800%. Mr Somiaya claims that there are 31 bogus companies which have acted as fronts for Mr Bhujbal. There are also investments by the 2G scandal-hit DB Realty, one of whose promoters, Mr Vinod Goenka is supposedly very close to the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.
Stunningly, the government which has prepared a white paper on black money has not ordered an investigation so far. The Income Tax department, which harasses legitimate businessmen with significantly less wealth, is apparently awaiting instructions from its political masters. Since the finance portfolio is now with the Prime Minster, the buck clearly stops at the highest executive office in India.
Mr Somaiya makes the serious allegation that the deal is in the form of kickbacks for the contract to reconstruct a lavish Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi and that KS Chamankar Group which bagged the contract also walked away with over 30 lakh sq ft of saleable area in Mumbai.
The modus operandi allegedly used by Mr Bhujbal’s companies is popular with many politicians. In Andhra Pradesh, the CBI is questioning several politicians and companies in connection with the disproportionate assets case against Mr Jaganmohan Reddy. These include managing directors of Hetro Drugs (Srinivasa Reddy), Aurobindo Pharma (Nityananda Reddy) Trident Life Sciences (Sarat Chandra Reddy), Ayodhyarami Reddy (Ramky Group Chairman) and most importantly Nimmagadda Prasad of Matrix laboratories who was considered an entrepreneur with a golden touch. Several IAS officers who facilitated these deals are also arrested and questioned.
Mr Prasad (known as Matrix Prasad) allegedly invested Rs500 crore in different businesses of Jagan Reddy in return for several benefits from the former Chief Minister. The goodies that he received included 15,000 acres of land at Guntur. The Jagan Reddy companies that received Mr Prasad’s largess included Rs100 crore in Jagati Publications (publishes his Telugu daily Sakshi), Rs244 crore in Bharati Cements and Rs200 crore in Carmel Asia. All these were at a fancy premium
. For instance, three of Mr Prasad’s companies – Gilchrist Investments Pvt Ltd, Alpha Villas Pvt Ltd and Alpha Avenues Pvt Ltd bought shares in Jagan's companies at a premium of Rs350 apiece for a share with face value of Rs10.
As Moneylife has reported
earlier, it was common in Hyderabad for politicians to sell their stakes in companies controlled by them to big businessmen at a huge premium. In return, they got access to natural resources (like iron ore) or land for infrastructure projects. The CBI has also quizzed N Srinivasan of India Cements, who was also allegedly using the quid pro quo model, for funding Jaganmohan Reddy, in return for limestone allocations. A similar arrangement with the Gali brothers of Bellary, who were ministers in the Karnataka government has recently been scrapped.
These are not the only examples. Former Jharkhand Chief Minister, Madhu Koda, who ripped off Rs4000 crore for the State’s rich mineral resources is also understood to have used a string of companies to transfer wealth abroad.
Investigators have also found a link between him and Maharashtra Congress minister Kripashankar Singh, who began life as a vegetable vendor and turned enormously wealthy as a politician.
Interestingly, many of the companies that have funded politicians in return for massive land, infrastructure contracts or other goodies are listed entities. The dubious investment companies have all been floated because the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) pays no attention to what is happening under its watch. Yet, Minister Veerappa Moily has been touring the country exhorting investors and intermediaries to follow the highest standards of good governance.