The enforcement directorate (ED) on Wednesday said that they recently carried out search and seizure operations at 25 premises in a FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) violation case lodged against foreign-registered online gaming companies and websites operating in India.
The ED's probe suggests that more than Rs4,000 crore was sent abroad through shell firms.
The ED said that the raids were conducted at 11 locations in Delhi, seven locations in Gujarat, four locations in Maharashtra, two locations in Madhya Pradesh and at one location in Andhra Pradesh.
"These online gaming companies/ websites are registered in small island countries like Curacao, Malta and Cyprus. However, all of them are linked to Indian bank accounts opened in the name of proxy persons who have no links with online gaming activity.
"The amount so collected from the general public through gaming websites is then routed through multiple bank accounts and finally remitted out of India by mis-declaring the purpose of remittances against import of services," an ED official said.
The official said that remittances out of the income from racing or riding, or any other hobby are not allowed under the provisions of FEMA.
ED said that in this connection, searches were conducted at premises linked to several hawala operators, namely Ashish Kakkar, Neeraj Bedi, Arjun Ashwinbhai Adhikari, Abhijeet Khot and the persons and entities associated with them.
The official said that searches have resulted in seizure of several incriminating documents, electronic evidence related to cases and the revealing of modus adopted by them to evade investigative agencies.
"Hundreds of companies have been opened by key persons in the name of their employees for layering and sending remittances to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore, in the guise of payments for the import of goods and services," the official said.
ED said that several PAN cards, Aadhaar cards used for creating such firms, mobiles used for operating bank accounts of these firms and office stamps were also found and seized.
"Key persons were found using international virtual mobile numbers for instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, and using pseudo-names such as Pablo, John, Watson for masking their actual identity. To escape from investigating agencies, they were using remote-based server, laptops which are being used through remote access apps like Anydesk, Team viewer," the official said.
The ED further stated that two remotely-accessed laptops have also been recovered and seized from the premises of entity providing server services located far away from the actual operational places.
"Seizures made during searches include incriminating documents and electronic devices establishing foreign outward remittances of thousands of crores collected from the public through gaming websites using accounts of dummy firms opened in the name of proxy persons who are not linked with the gaming activities, Rs 19.55 lakh in cash, $2,695 and 55 bank accounts of firms being used for layering and remitting income generated from online gaming in the guise of remittances against import of goods and services have also been frozen," the official said.
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