Saradha Chit Fund: ED questions ex-TMC MP Kunal Ghosh

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday questioned former Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh in its probe into the Saradha Chit Fund scam.

A senior ED official told IANS: “Ghosh is being questioned for his role in the Saradha Chit Fund case under sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.”

The official said that the agency is questioning Ghosh about the financial transactions of the Saradha group.

On being asked when the agency has summoned Trinamool Congress sitting MP Satabdi Roy, East Bengal football club official Debabrata Sarkar, businessmen Sajjan Agarwal, Sandhir Agarwal and Saradha Group Chairman Sudipta Sen’s close aide Arindam Das, he said, “They have been asked to appear in August before ED.”

The Saradha scam came to light in April 2013 and is estimated at over Rs 10,000 crore. The ED has filed a case on the basis of the CBI’s FIR.



Facebook to fund study on social media’s role in democracy

Facebook has announced its first grants for independent research on social media’s impact on democracy that will investigate, among other things, the role of technology platforms in spread of misinformation.

Social media platforms have come under intense scrutiny around the world ever since allegations surfaced of Russian-linked accounts trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

For the study, more than 60 researchers were chosen from 30 academic institutions across 11 countries through a competitive peer review process by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the independent group Social Science One.

These researchers will gain access to privacy-protected Facebook data.

“We hope this initiative will deepen public understanding of the role social media has on elections and democracy and help Facebook and other companies improve their products and practices,” Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Special Projects at Facebook and the company’s Strategic Initiatives Manager Chaya Nayak wrote in a blog post on Monday.

Facebook said it did not play any role in the selection of the individuals or their projects and will have no role in directing the findings or conclusions of the research.

These grantees will seek to use access to Facebook data to better explain how political news is shared in European multiparty political systems and to understand how social events or technology platform changes influence communication behaviour such as spreading disinformation, among other issues, SSRC said.

The projects also seek to provide a richer understanding of the relationship between social media platforms like Facebook and traditional news media, it added.



Jet staff confident of securing Rs 3,000 cr fund, seek SBI nod to bid

Sensing the options to revive the grounded Jet Airways are fast running out, a group of airline employees has written to SBI seeking permission to allow a consortium of employees and external investors to bid for the management control of the company.

The employee representatives have said they will secure an investment of up to Rs 3,000 crore from “outside investors.”

The associations that have sent the proposal are Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots (SWIP) and Jet Aircraft Maintenance Engineers’s Welfare Association (JAMEWA).

The associations have promised that employees would contribute towards revival of the airline from their future earnings and increased productivity.

“As per our initial estimate. the contribution of employee group over a hypothetical 5-year Employee Stock Ownership Programme (ESOP) is likely to upward of Rs 4,000 crore,” a joint letter to SBI Chairman stated.

They said that the decision has been taken through extensive discussion with various employee groups across the company, and also with colleagues who have in the past successfully held senior management positions.

“We recognize that legacy issues of high operating costs, overstaffing, unfavourable vendor/lease agreements and adverse debt/equity ratio etc are involved,” the proposal letter said.

The associations have also urged the lenders to ensure the process of de-registration of aircraft and re-allocation of airport slots be immediately reversed.

“…if not reversed quickly, (it) would spell doom for any future prospects of reviving the company,” the associations warned.

Lenders of Jet Airways led by SBI are currently in the process of selling the airline to recover their dues of over Rs 8,400 crore.

Private equity firm TPG Capital, Indigo Partners, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) and Etihad Airways are in the race to buy a stake in the grounded Jet Airways.



Rights issue, monetisation to meet fund needs; Vodafone

Vodafone Idea, the country’s largest telco by subscribers, on Wednesday said that it will meet its funding requirements as well as other possible capital infusion plans through its Rs 25,000-crore rights issue, which closes today.

“We are raising capital via this rights issue, further monetisation of our stake in Indus Towers will add to the liquidity. We believe that these, along with the cash flows from our operations, will be sufficient to meet our funding for the foreseeable future. Additionally, we also have the option to monetise our fibre assets,” Akshaya Moondra, Chief Financial Officer, Vodafone Idea Ltd told IANS.

The company has 1.58 lakh kms of fibre network. It expects Rs 5,500 crore through its 11.15 per cent Indus Tower stake sale in 3-4 months, though the exact realisation will depend on Bharti Infratel’s stock price.

Under a contract signed with Bharti Infratel in April 2018, the company has an option to sell its stake in Indus Tower for cash ahead of the merger of the country’s largest mobile tower firm with the Bharti group firm.

Moondra earlier told IANS that he expected the rights issue to be fully subscribed. Early morning shares of Vodafone Idea was up marginally at Rs 17.10.

While the company believes that its Rs 25,000-crore fund raising will create a strong enough war chest and capitalisation to manage the high intensity competition in the low-priced Indian telecom market, analysts have a different take.

“Vodafone idea is very stretched because their Ebitda has fallen to about $650 million(around 4,455.8 crore), their debt is also quite high and their leverage as measured by debt-to-Ebitda too is high,” said Nitin Soni, Director for corporate ratings at Fitch Ratings.

Soni said the amount was insufficient and it might have to raise more money in future because the company’s capex plan was about $3.5-4 billion. “So all in all they would probably need more equity, or stake or sale of other assets,” he added.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea, the two incumbents, face huge disruption due to the entry of Reliance Jio, which has already become the third-largest player in the telecom sector with 300 million subscribers in just over two years through cheaper tariff and better service 4G services.

Vodafone Idea, the operator with the highest number of subscribers, lost the most users — 57.87 lakh — in February, pulling its subscriber base down to around 40.93 crore. Bharti Airtel’s subscriber base too eroded by 49,896 users, and by the end of February it had 34.03 crore subscribers, showed the TRAI data.



Many chit fund conspirators still outside CBI probe; Ex-MP

Former Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh, who was interrogated with Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams on Tuesday, claimed that many conspirators are still outside the purview of the probe.

“I have tried to help the investigation since the beginning. This time also, I have tried my best to answer their questions. Many conspirators are still outside the purview of the probe and arrest,” said Ghosh, who was arrested in November 2013 in connection with the two chit fund scams and later granted interim bail by the Calcutta High Court in 2016.

Ghosh, who had earlier implicated former Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy and 12 others in the Saradha ponzi scam, said Kumar’s interrogation was long overdue.

“The complaints that were there for a long time were raised during the interrogation sessions and the good thing is Kumar had to listen to my complaints, which he earlier refused to,” he said.

“This (interrogation) should have happened long ago. It has been delayed a lot,” he said.

CBI interrogated Ghosh and Kumar together for several hours on Sunday and Monday, and recorded their statements.

“They raised certain issues that they came across during the investigation and asked both of us to individually respond to that. They have recorded my statements and asked counter questions to Kumar on the basis of it,” Ghosh said.

The agency summoned Kumar for the fourth consecutive day on Tuesday for questioning.

Many chit fund conspirators still outside CBI probe: Ex-MP



CBI to move SC after face-off with Kolkata policemen in investigation of chit fund scams

Following the face-off between CBI and Kolkata policemen outside city Police Commissioner’s official residence, the central agency said it would move the Supreme Court, alleging the investigation in ponzi scam cases were being hindered and investigation officers were harassed.

“We are in touch with legal advisors on this. It’s a Supreme Court ordered probe and every authority is supposed to follow the directions of the honourable court. We can move the Supreme Court on Monday,” said a senior agency official, requesting anonymity.

There was a high drama in front of Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s official residence on Loudon Street on Sunday as a group CBI officers approached the house, but they
were stopped by city police personnel, who also forcibly took the federal probe agency officers to a police station.

A senior Kolkata Police officer told reporters, “They told us that they were CBI officers and when asked to produce documents, they failed to submit these. They could not give us any satisfactory response,” he said.

Refuting the claim, a CBI official said the agency had all the requisite documents.

“No one is in detention. We were not given any cooperation and have all the documents. Our officers came for the operations and we were taken to a police station forcibly. We sought police protection which was denied. They did not accept any request. We are intending to submit an application but they were not ready to accept it,” said a CBI officer.

“They went there after completing all the legal requirements and they (city police) should have cooperated. Over last two years, we have been giving notices to police officers who were investigating in these (ponzi scheme) cases before the Supreme Court handed over the cases to us,” CBI Joint Director Pankaj Srivastava said.

He alleged that several primary evidences were missing, and either they were “destructed” or “contrived”.

“Several very primary evidences were missing and either they were destructed or contrived. So we wanted to question these people about where evidence has gone…for the last two years, the investigation in these were being interfered into and our officers were called to police stations for different cases and they were questioned and harassed. A lot of intimidation has been going on.”

He said the federal agency had moved Supreme Court in 2017 and in July 2018, the court said that the agency should cooperate with the CBI.

“Despite that, no cooperation came forward. So our officers went there (CP’s residence) to question him and they were stopped from entering the residences.

“On the order of the Supreme Court to investigate larger conspiracy involving in these cases, the agency has been investigating the case.

“We will move the Supreme Court,” he said.

Srivastava also said the agency offices in the city and his residence here was surrounded by state police forces and following which, Central Police Force was called on for the safety of documents.