Cash courier who claimed Mahadev app money was meant for Bhupesh Baghel stands by statement: ED

The federal agency arrested courier Asim Das last November from a Raipur hotel just before the first phase of the Chhattisgarh assembly polls.
The Directorate of Enforcement. (File | PTI)
The Directorate of Enforcement. (File | PTI)

NEW DELHI: An alleged courier, arrested in the Mahadev betting app case, who claimed he had been sent to "deliver" cash to former Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, has retracted his denial of having made the charges, saying he stands by the statement, the ED informed a court.

The federal agency arrested courier Asim Das last November from a Raipur hotel just before the first phase of the Chhattisgarh assembly polls.

It had claimed that Das "admitted that the seized funds (Rs 5.39 crore cash) were arranged by the Mahadev app promoters to be delivered to one politician 'Baghel' for upcoming election expenses in Chhattisgarh".

During his production before the court later last year, Das submitted that he had been framed as part of a conspiracy and that he had never delivered cash to anyone.

The Enforcement Directorate has now informed in its second prosecution complaint (charge sheet) filed before a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Raipur on January 1 that Das recorded a fresh statement on December 12 last year in which he "retracted from his November 3 statement (made) under the influence of someone who arrived with his (Das's) advocate".

Das has now told the ED that "this person gave him a pre-typed document and asked him to reproduce it in his handwriting".

The man also told the agency that he "did not know to whom the retraction was forwarded to and signed it, believing it would be beneficial to his case".

The ED said Das stated that his first statement given to the agency on November 3 last year in which he cited Baghel's name was "true and correct".

In his November statement, the courier had told the ED that Subham Soni, a promoter of the Mahadev app, called him to Dubai in October 2023 and said he would be "provided cash which was to be delivered to Mr Bhupesh Baghel."

Incidentally, Das' 62-year-old father Sushil Das was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a well on December 6 in Chhattisgarh's Durg district. Baghel dubbed these charges as an attempt to "malign" his image while the Congress termed it "vendetta politics" by the Centre.

The ED charge sheet has named five accused -- Asim Das, police constable Bhim Singh Yadav and Mahadev app operatives Subham Soni, accounts department worker Rohit Gulati and Anil Kumar Agrawal alias Atul Agrawal.

The Raipur court is expected to take cognisance of this supplementary charge sheet on January 10. The agency also said in its latest charge sheet that it has attached a flat and a plot located in Dubai worth Rs 99.46 crore under the provisions of the PMLA as it sought the court's permission to confiscate them. These assets belong to Vikash Chhapparia, an accused in the case, and Agrawal.

In the first charge sheet filed last year, the ED had named the two main promoters of the alleged illegal betting and gaming app -- Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal -- among others.

The two have been recently detained in Dubai based on an Interpol red notice issued at the behest of the ED and the agency is trying to deport or extradite them from the UAE to India.

The ED said that Soni, a "prominent member in the financial operations" of the Mahadev app, did not appear before it but sent an email on November 2 last year, claiming "regular bribe payments have been made in the past and so far around Rs 508 crore have been paid by Mahadev app promoters to Mr Bhupesh Baghel, chief minister of Chhattisgarh".

According to the agency, Soni also stated in his email that kickbacks were "indeed being paid regularly on behalf of Mahadev Book to the political executives for ensuring smooth operation of betting operations in Chhattisgarh as he named 'Verma Ji' as one of the conduits for bribe/profit share payments".

The ED, in the latest charge sheet, also recorded the statement of Mahadev app executive Nitish Diwan, who told the agency that the app and its subsidiary 'Reddy Anna Book' operated as many as 3,200 panels that generated Rs 40 crore per day and the promoters had rented 20 villas in Dubai to accommodate their staff of about 3,500 people.

"The expenses incurred on food, lodging, medicine, travel and visa were borne by the promoters," Diwan told the ED.

He also told the agency that a success party was organised by the promoters in Dubai on September 18, 2022, which was attended by many "Bollywood stars". The ED has summoned actors Ranbir Kapoor and Huma Qureshi, and comedian Kapil Sharma among others for recording their statements in this case.

The agency also recorded the statement of one Yogesh Popat, an event organiser, who told the ED that he "organised" the birthday party of accused Anil Agrawal, an associate of Chandrakar, at a hotel in Dubai for which he received a payment of about Rs 4-4.5 crore.

He said the vendors for the party were engaged locally in Dubai and singers Sachin-Jigar and actor and comedian Ali Asgar performed in the event.

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