PANAJI: Suspected hawala operator Raychand Soni, one of the accused in the Louis Berger bribery case was also allegedly funding a few casinos in Goa, the Crime Branch told a court here.
Soni, who was arrested by Goa Police last week is being investigated for providing money to be paid as bribes to former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and then State Public Works department minister Churchill Alemao.
"Casinos are running on his funds. He (Soni) funds many casino gamblers in Goa," special public prosecutor G D Kirtani told Judge B P Deshpande yesterday while opposing his bail plea.
The prosecution also pointed out to his confessional statement recorded before a judicial magistrate under section 164 of CrPC that he paid Rs 1.75 crore to ex-Louis Berger employees in 2009-11 at his shop in Panaji through hawala transactions.
The district court extended Soni's custody by three days yesterday. Kirtani told the court that Soni had allegedly paid the money (Rs 1.75 crore) in cash to former employees of the US counsultancy firm--Sanjay Jindal and Shiv Ram Prasad. This amount was in turn paid to Kamat and Alemao.
The lawyer said the further interrogation could reveal the source of Soni's money.
"The identity of the source/person who had delivered the cash from outside Goa to the accused has to be revealed, while also the chain of transfer of money. It is a vital link. His involvement in hawala transaction which is illegal and encourages other illegal things into the picture deteriorates a nation in all aspects," Kirtani added.
Senior counsel Nitin Sardesai contested the prosecution’s submission stating that Soni paid the amount to witness Sanjay Jindal on request from his friend and another witness in the case Prasanna Shah.
He also dismissed charges of conspiracy levelled against his client while denying Soni being a hawala operator.
"There is no evidence that I paid the money to the ex-ministers. My friend Shah had called me to pay the amount to Jindal, which I delivered through my employee Mukesh Bharati (also a witness in the case). I withdrew the huge amount from my bank account. I can afford to since I am financially sound with vast real estate business," Sardesai submitted in the court on behalf of Soni.
"I have paid huge amount to Shah in instalments which I got back..The crime branch has no evidence of hawala transactions because I am not into this illegal business," Soni's lawyer submitted.
Yesterday, head for JICA-aided project in Goa Anand Wachasunder has claimed before a court that he was a witness to the bribe money given to Kamat and Alemao. Wachasunder has given graphic details before a magistrate here on how the bribe was paid, where it was paid and how much money was paid to these two ministers.
The Crime Branch had earlier told the court that Kamat allegedly accepted bribe at his official residence here, which was also the venue of several heated discussions and arguments with bureaucrats to clear the deal for the US-based firm.
In its submission in the court, the Crime Branch made this claim based on the confessional statement made by a former employee of the New Jersey-based management consultancy firm which had won the contract when Kamat was heading the Congress-led ministry in the state.
Alemao was arrested by the Crime Branch last week in connection with the case. Kamat, who had been questioned by the investigators, had later filed an anticipatory bail plea which was opposed by the police.
The US-based company has admitted to paying bribe to an Indian minister to win consultancy for the project funded by JICA.
The Crime Branch has alleged that Kamat and Alemao were trying to ensure that the entire project was kept under their control. The Crime Branch, which has arrested four people including Wachasunder, is now searching for a crucial files pertaining to award of the consultancy work.
Meanwhile, Goa crime branch has summoned Digamber Kamat today ahead of his anticipatory bail hearing in a local court. Crime branch officials confirmed that Kamat has been summoned at noon at their office in Ribander, 10 kms away from here, and is likely to be quizzed in connection with the case.