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ED attaches assets worth Rs 9,778 crore of Sandesara Group, its promoters

Deeptiman Tiwary
The ED also claimed to have found that the promoters created a web of corporate and accounting structures abroad.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached close to Rs 10,000 crore worth of foreign assets belonging to the Sandesara Group and its promoters Nitin, Chetan and Deepti Sandesara, in connection with its money laundering probe into the Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech case.

The assets include oil rigs and ships based in Nigeria, apart from a residential property in London. The attached properties include four oil rigs and oil field, namely OML 143, located in Nigeria and held by Sterling Energy Exploration Pvt Co Ltd (SEEPCO) Nigeria; ships, namely Tulja Bhawani , Varinda , Bhavya , Brahmani etc which are registered in Panama and held in the name of company Atlantic Blue Water Services; aircraft 200 Gulfstream registered in USA held by M/s SAIB LLC and a residential flat in London. All these companies are controlled by SBL (Sterling Biotech Ltd), an ED statement said Wednesday.

The agency has put the cumulative value of the attachment at Rs 9,778 crore. This is the second attachment of Sandesara assets made by the ED under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Its previous attachment of assets worth Rs 4,730 crore was already confirmed by the PMLA Adjudicating Authority.

The Directorate s probe is based on an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Sterling Biotech Ltd in October 2017. The CBI had alleged that the group had wilfully defaulted on loans of over Rs 5,000 crore from a consortium of banks led by Andhra Bank and perted the money for promoters personal purposes.

It is revealed during investigation that the loan funds were perted for non-mandated purposes, layered and laundered through a web of multiple domestic as well as offshore entities. The main promoters have not only siphoned off loan funds to finance their Nigerian Oil Business but also for their personal purposes, the ED statement said. According to the ED, the group was engaged in round tripping of Standby Letters of Credit (SBLCs) funds to the tune of Rs 4,500 crore by violating conditions laid by the RBI while sanctioning the loan.

The said SBLCs were later on devolved on the guarantor banks causing wrongful loss to these public sector banks and to the public at large. Their strategy included incorporation of multiple shell companies, conducting circular transactions to artificially inflate turnover of flagship companies, claiming higher depreciations on non-existing machinery to avoid tax liabilities, artificial share trading with the shell companies, layering and laundering of proceeds of crime within India and abroad through web of multiple shell companies, the ED statement read.

It alleged that the Sandesaras used their employees names and incorporated 249 domestic and 96 offshore shell companies. The original PAN cards, stamps, seals, Memorandum of Association and signed blank cheque books of shell companies have been seized from promoters. All these shell companies were controlled, managed and beneficially owned by the main promoters and were used in the process of money laundering, the ED statement said.

The ED also claimed to have found that the promoters created a web of corporate and accounting structures abroad. They have incorporated 96 entities in various countries including UAE, USA, UK, BVI, Mauritius, Barbados, Panama, and Nigeria. The main entities outside India include Richmond Overseas, Sunshine Trust Corporation, SEEPCO BVI, SEEPCO Nigeria, Atlantic Blue Water Services Pvt Ltd. Geodynamic Geospectra Limited, SAIB LLC, Goldcoin Construction etc. It is revealed during investigation that the funds were rotated through various structures and ultimately parked in Nigeria to cater to the personal interests of the main promoters, its statement read.