Bengal chit fund promoter, aides arrested in Kashmir (Roundup)

Srinagar/Kolkata, April 23 (IANS) In a major breakthrough in West Bengal’s chit fund muddle, Saradha Group chairman and managing director Sudipta Sen was arrested from Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday with two of his associates, even as angry depositors duped by the company blocked highways and rail tracks.

“Based on information provided by the West Bengal Police, three people were detained by us from the Sonamarg tourist resort in Ganderbal district today (Tuesday),” a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police officer told IANS.

Sen’s aides have been identified as Group director Debjani Mukherjee and Arvind Singh Chauhan, a senior functionary handling the Group’s affairs in Jharkhand.

According to Biddhannagar police, the trio left Kolkata April 10 for Ranchi and later moved on to the northern parts of the country before going to Jammu and Kashmir.

“We had formed several crack teams to apprehend Sen and from interrogations, we learnt that Sen and his two associates have been moving from one place to another in Northern India before reaching Kashmir,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Bidhannagar Arnab Ghosh said.

Ghosh said that a police team has reached Sonmarg and the process to produce the trio before a court there and their subsequent transit back to West Bengal has been initiated.

During the manhunt, the crack teams studied CCTV footages of various hotels as well as toll plazas to gain information about Sen’s movements.

The arrests ended a massive manhunt launched by the state police for Sen, who was untraceable since early last week after the Group went bust and its offices downed shutters, unable to repay the depositors who had parked their hard-earned money lured by astronomically high interest rates promised by the company.

Mukherjee, the most trusted aide of Sen, is regarded as a key person in the chit fund muddle, as she is believed to be in the know of all his business dealings.

The young and ambitious Mukherjee, who took air hostess training but could not find a job in the sector joined the Group as a mere receptionist and rose fast in the hierarchy to become a director after gaining his confidence.

She now owns several luxurious flats in the city and at other places.

The Saradha Group is one of the largest chit fund companies in eastern India. It also diversified into construction, realty, tourism, hospitality, agri-businesses and media.

As capital market regulator SEBI and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of the union corporate affairs ministry started taking action against chit fund companies for flouting rules, which raised concerns over safety of public money, pressure on the group’s finances mounted.

Crisis in the group was brewing since January, which forced it to recently to wind up at least 10 media organisations – newspapers and television channels – that it had launched or acquired since 2010. Over 1,000 journalists and non-journalists have been rendered jobless.

Meanwhile a day after state government set up an inquiry commission and special investigation team to probe the scam, widespread protests by agents and investors rocked different parts of the state threatening law an order.

Angry protests attacked the officers of Saradha Group in different parts of Bengal, blocking railways and national highways and burnt effigy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

There was protests outside the house of state’s Paschimanchal Development minister in Jhargram of West Midnapore district while in the neighbouring East Midnapore district, an agent of the company tried to commit suicide by consuming pesticide.

There were protests in various places in Assam too where furious investors and agents even ransacked the group’s offices, lying vacant and looked. The state police has sealed the offices.

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