Electoral bonds data | Many top donors were under ED and Income Tax Department scanner

In some cases, a chunk of the bonds were bought by these firms in the days following searches

March 15, 2024 02:03 pm | Updated March 16, 2024 06:01 am IST

Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR was the largest donor to political parties via the electoral bond route, with a cumulative sum of ₹1,368 crore. Photo used for representational purpose

Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR was the largest donor to political parties via the electoral bond route, with a cumulative sum of ₹1,368 crore. Photo used for representational purpose

An analysis of firms which feature among the top purchasers of electoral bonds throws up many curious patterns. One of the common links is that a significant number of companies in the top donor list were under the Enforcement Directorate’s or the Income Tax (I-T) department’s scanner at some point of time in the past five years. In some cases, a chunk of the bonds were bought by these firms, in the days following such searches.

The Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR was the largest donor to political parties via the electoral bond route, with a cumulative sum of ₹1,368 crore. In May 2023, the ED had carried out searches at the residence of Santiago Martin in Chennai, the well-known lottery magnate and the Managing Director of the company. The ED had also conducted searches at the business premises of the company in Coimbatore under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). A year earlier, on April 2, 2022, the ED had attached movable assets worth ₹410 crore under the PMLA in the case of lottery scam against the company and its subsidiaries. Interestingly, five days later, on April 7, 2022, the company made a significant purchase of electoral bonds worth ₹100 crore, marking one of their largest transactions on a single date. Of the ₹1,368 crore worth bonds purchased by the company, 50% were done before the ED searches and 50% after the searches.

Same address

The other set of companies which followed a similar pattern are the Keventer Food Park Infra Ltd., the MKJ Enterprises Ltd. and the Madanlal Ltd. All these three firms are registered with the same address in Kolkata, West Bengal and have at least one common Director. The common Director is Siddharth Gupta, but the three companies were incorporated in different years. MKJ Enterprises was incorporated in 1982, Madanlal in 1983 and Keventer Food Park was incorporated in 2010. These three companies together donated about ₹573 crore — the third highest — if purchases are considered cumulatively. Of the ₹573 crore, ₹195 crore worth bonds were purchased by Keventer Food Park Infra Ltd. in three batches between April and May 2019. About ₹185 crore worth of bonds were purchased by Madanlal Ltd. between May 8 and 10, 2019.

Also read: Electoral bonds data | Full list of donors and recipient political parties

Keventer Agro, a company which shares its e-mail domain with Madanlal and MKJ Enterprises, ran into controversy following a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by West Bengal Congress unit chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury after the State government’s sale of its stake in Metro Dairy to Keventer Agro in 2017. The West Bengal government had divested its 47% shares in Metro Dairy to Keventer Agro Limited for ₹85 crore in 2017. In the same year, a Singapore-based private equity fund had picked up 15% shares of Keventer Agro for ₹170 crore. Currently, Mayank Jalan is the Managing Director of Keventer Agro and is also a Director of Metro Dairy.

The ED had started an investigation into the divestment of the West Bengal government’s stake in the Metro Dairy in 2019. Summons were issued to several officials of the State government, including H.K. Dwivedi, who was the State’s Finance Secretary in 2017, when the shares of Metro Dairy were divested. Summons were issued to State officials, including Mr. Dwivedi, in June 2020 and later in March 2021. In February 2021, searches were conducted by ED officials at the office of Keventer Agro Limited in Kolkata in connection with the probe.

The investigation lost its steam after the Calcutta High Court in June 2022 dismissed the PIL plea filed by Mr. Choudhury alleging lack of transparency in the divestment. The Supreme Court in September 2022 had upheld the Calcutta High Court order.

The Yashoda Super Specialty Hospital Group in Hyderabad, whose premises were searched by the Income Tax department in December 2020, had donated ₹162 crore in multiple tranches beginning October 2021 and ending in October 2023.

Aurobindo Pharma’s Director Sarath Reddy was arrested by the ED on November 10, 2022, for his alleged involvement in irregularities in the scrapped liquor policy of the Delhi government. Five days after the arrest on November 15, the company had purchased bonds worth ₹5 crore. A year later in November 2023, it had purchased bonds worth ₹25 crore. In total the company had purchased electoral bonds worth ₹52 crore in multiple tranches between April 2021 and November 2023, of which ₹30 crore were done after Mr. Reddy’s arrest.

On December 18, 2023, IT searches were conducted on Shirdi Sai Electricals Limited’s factory premises at the Industrial Development Area on the outskirts of Kadapa. The raids were also conducted simultaneously at the Hyderabad office and at its top officials’ residences. The company had purchased electoral bonds worth ₹40 crore on January 11, 2024.

I-T searches were conducted at real estate development firm Kalpataru Projects International’s premises and residences of some of its directors and executives in August 2023. The company bought ₹25.5 crore worth electoral bonds between April 2023 and October 2023.

(With inputs from Kunal Shankar and Shiv Sahay Singh)

Also read:Electoral bonds data | 22 companies donated over ₹100 crore, BJP got highest share

Watch:Electoral bonds banned: Which party benefitted the most while it existed?

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