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Vessel traffic system contract scam: GMB official among five sent to police custody

Police believe that the scam was done at the behest of only Aatash Group and its Norway partners were not aware about it. (Representational Image)

A day after the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Gujarat Police arrested five persons, including an official of Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), for allegedly siphoning off over Rs 134 crores through a contract of Vessel Traffic and Port Management System (VTPMS), the accused were sent to five days police custody on Friday.

Police are still hunting for the then chief naval officer of GMB, Captain (retired) Sandeep Chandra Mathur, another accused in the alleged 2007 scam.

Aashish Bhatia, Gujarat CID Crime and Railways Director General of Police, said the accused Harshad Rajgopal, Superintendent Mechanical Engineer of GMB; Jinofer Bhujwala, Chairman and Managing Director of Aatash Norcontrol Limited (ANL); Zubin Bhujwala, Director of ANL; Sudarshan Sharma and Rekha Sharma, owners of shell companies were produced before a magistrate. They have been sent to police custody till July 2. We will soon arrest Mathur, said Bhatia.

According to police, ANL is a flagship company of Aatash Group, which had a joint venture with Norway-based Kongsberg company. In November 2007, ANL received a contract of setting up VTPMS to track vessels, cargo ships and boats at Khambat coast.

According to a concession agreement signed between the Gujarat government, GMB and ANL, the private undertaking company must show an investment of Rs 100 crore to receive an yearly return of 15%. However, if the investment was less than Rs 100 crore, the rate of return will also be less. But, if the investment is over Rs 100 crore, then there won t be more yearly returns. Moreover, the ANL was bound to grant 20% of returns every year to GMB as per the contract.

Police said that the GMB officials conspired with the ANL and approved their fake invoices to show an investment up to Rs 100 crore.

To show an investment of Rs 100 crore, the ANL presented fake invoices of two companies Aakash Palace Development Private Limited and Chardham Development Private Limited to the tune of Rs 16.31 crore, which was duly approved by the accused GMB officials. Through similar modus operandi, the ANL managed to siphon off Rs 134.38 crore in three years. They took help of the shell companies run by Sudarshan and Rekha Sharma to route the money back to them, said an officer.

Police believe that the scam was done at the behest of only Aatash Group and its Norway partners were not aware about it.

The scam was carried out only locally with the help of a few officers of the GMB. The Norway-based company was only concerned with the technological aspects of the VTPMS project and not the scam, said Bhatia.