ED zeroes in on online gaming companies, websites set up in Curacao, Malta and Cyprus

A large number of fake PAN and Aadhaar cards used for setting up shell entities, through which the ‘proceeds of crime’ were layered and transferred overseas, have been seized

Updated - April 09, 2024 07:27 pm IST

Published - April 09, 2024 06:09 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Enforcement Directorate (ED) logo.

Enforcement Directorate (ED) logo. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has zeroed in on multiple online gaming companies and websites incorporated in small island nations, including Curacao, Malta and Cyprus, through which hundreds of investors in different parts of the country were cheated by a criminal syndicate of at least ₹4,978 crore.

An alleged key member of the syndicate, Punit Kumar, also known as Puneet Maheshwari, was arrested soon after he landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport from Nepal a few days ago. The accused, a resident of Delhi’s Moti Nagar, was produced before a special court that had sent him to the ED custody till April 9.

The agency’s money-laundering probe is based on several First Information Reports (FIR) registered in Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh and other places, alleging that the victims were cheated via online schemes and games.

“He devised a distinctive method of defrauding individuals, utilising servers located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to orchestrate scams, with a parallel system established in India to support the syndicate’s operations in the UAE,” the agency said, adding that Mr. Kumar was a key member of the syndicate.

After the ED had conducted searches on his premises, the accused had been avoiding its summonses and attempted to evade the probe team.

The agency had earlier arrested another accused named Ashish Kakkar from a Gurugram hotel on March 2, 2024. He is currently in judicial custody. Earlier, it had searched 25 premises in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh on May 22 and May 23, 2023.

In February-March 2024, 14 more premises were searched. These operations led to the seizure of various assets, including foreign-made gold bars weighing 8 kg valued at about ₹5.04 crore (purportedly from the premises of Mr. Kumar), ₹75 lakh in cash, jewellery, high-end watches, and luxury cars.

A large number of fake PAN and Aadhaar cards used for setting up shell entities, through which the “proceeds of crime” were layered and transferred overseas, mobile devices employed for managing the bank accounts of these entities, and office stamps were also seized.

“To evade detection, individuals involved in these activities have resorted to using remote-based servers/laptops accessed through remote desktop applications like Anydesk and TeamViewer. In this instance, two such remotely accessed laptops were...seized from the premises of the entity providing server services, located distant from the actual operational sites,” the ED said.

According to the agency, the accused cheated people through offers of loans and phenomenal returns on investments; false promise of part-time jobs; online shopping fraud, etc. When the victims demanded their money back, they were made to pay up more on the pretext of taxes or processing fees.

It is alleged that Mr. Kumar, Mr. Kakkar and their associates had established over 200 companies or firms using forged documents. Although the two did not hold any official position in these entities, they were the beneficial owners. They would monitor and control every transaction through their associates.

In order to send the funds abroad, they imported consignments declaring high value items, including rose oil and solar panel machinery, from Dubai, Hong Kong, China and other countries, into Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Mundra, Kandla, and other places. The same were exported from those SEZs itself. They sent ₹4,978 crore against the imports, but no remittances were realised against the “export” of goods.

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