Making a startling revelation in the Supreme Court, the Enforcement Directorate on Thursday said it has unearthed a “secret underground office” which was being operated by erstwhile Unitech founder Ramesh Chandra and visited by his sons Sanjay Chandra and Ajay Chandra when on parole or bail.
Enforcement Directorate, which has been investigating money laundering charges against the Chandras’ and Unitech Ltd, said that both Sanjay and Ajay have rendered the entire judicial custody otiose as they have been freely communicating, instructing their officials, and disposing of their properties from inside the jail.
A bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah was told by Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, that Chandras’ have deputed their officials outside the jail to communicate their instructions to the outside world.
“During one of our search and seizure operations, we have unearthed a secret underground office, which is being used by Ramesh Chandra and visited by his sons when they are out on parole or bail.”
“We have recovered hundreds of original sale deeds from that office, hundreds of digital signatures, and several computers which contain sensitive data with regard to their properties in India and abroad,” Madhavi Divan told the bench.
She said the probe agency has submitted two status reports in a sealed cover to the court and have provisionally attached Unitech Ltd properties worth Rs 600 crore both in India and abroad.
Madhavi Divan pointed out that the agency has found a very “intricate web of money trail” through shell companies and the properties are being disposed of in real-time, which is creating problems in the probe.
“They (Chandras’) have been operating from inside the jail premises. They have rendered the entire judicial custody otiose. They are freely communicating and passing on instructions with the help of people deputed outside the jail premises. Enforcement Directorate has found that they have even tried to influence a “dummy director” when he was being interrogated by the agency”, Madhavi Divan said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the Chandras, said that nothing is done against the jail manual.
The top court said it is not hearing the Chandras at present and would first hear the Enforcement Directorate’s submission.
On June 4, the top court had granted 15-day interim bail to Sanjay Chandra to attend the last rites of his father-in-law after which he had surrendered.
On August 14 last year, the top court had dismissed the bail plea of Chandra, who was a month earlier granted interim bail for 30 days on “humanitarian grounds” as both his parents had tested positive for COVID-19 and asked him to surrender within three days.
The top court had also dismissed the bail application of Chandra’s brother Ajay Chandra, who is in jail since August 2017.
Both Sanjay and Ajay are accused of allegedly siphoning home buyers” money. The top court in its October 2017 order had asked them to deposit Rs 750 crore with the top court registry by December 31, 2017.
The Chandras have claimed that they complied with the court’s conditions and they have deposited an amount in excess of Rs 750 crore and therefore they are granted regular bail.
The top court had noted that since the October 2017 order, significant events have taken place and the top court had directed a forensic audit to be conducted by Grant Thornton.
It said that the court had earlier directed the Centre to ensure that all aspects, which were adverted to in the forensic report, should be investigated by the competent agencies, including with regard to the aspect of money laundering.
The matter pertains to a criminal case which started initially by one complaint lodged in 2015 and later joined by 173 other home buyers of Unitech projects” — ”Wild Flower Country” and ”Anthea Project” — situated in Gurugram.
On January 20 last year, in a respite to over 11,000 hassled home buyers of Unitech, the top court had allowed the Centre to take total management control of the realty firm and appoint a new board of nominee directors.
The top court had approved the name of retired Haryana cadre IAS officer Yudvir Singh Malik as chairman and managing director (CMD) of the new board and directed that the existing board of directors of the company would stand superseded.
In 2018, the top court had directed a forensic audit of Unitech Ltd and its sister concerns and subsidiaries by Samir Paranjpe, Partner, Forensic and Investigation Services in Grant Thornton India.
The forensic auditors had submitted their report which said that Unitech Ltd received around Rs 14,270 crore from 29,800 home buyers from 2006-2014 and around Rs 1,805 crore from six financial institutions for the construction of 74 projects.