The Hindu Explains: From Dera's money trail to the Mumbai blasts conviction

What is the lowdown Dera’s money trail?

Followers of the controvercial Indian Guru Ram Rahim Singh are seen at the enterance of the 'Dera Sacha Sauda' ashram in Sirsa.

Followers of the controvercial Indian Guru Ram Rahim Singh are seen at the enterance of the 'Dera Sacha Sauda' ashram in Sirsa.   | Photo Credit: AFP

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What Next?

The guru from Sirsa, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is now behind bars, had built an expanding business empire out of his spiritual command over millions of people, especially the poor and backward classes.

Singh pumped in the money that he allegedly collected from devotees into companies, washed black money into white and vice-versa, bought properties and built resorts.

Then he made B-grade movies, gave cash to his devotees to watch those movies and declared them super-hits. He bought luxury cars, abandoned them, built opulent palaces, educational institutions and underground caves, distributed largesse and votes to politicians.

On August 25, after the CBI court in Panchkula convicted the Dera chief, his followers went on the rampage, claiming more than 30 lives and leaving several hundred injured within a few hours. There was loss of both lives and property. The Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Punjab and Haryana governments to identify the properties of the Dera Sacha Sauda and submit a list of the same to the court and said the loss to public property would be compensated by those responsible for it.

The Haryana government sanctioned search of the Dera headquarters, and examination of various documents showed a widespread and flourishing empire of much financial interest.

In the 800-acre premises, officials came across two tunnels, one of which connected the Dera Awas, Singh’s official residence, to Sadhvi Niwas, a women’s hostel. The other tunnel may have been a kind of escape route from the premises.

The combing operations also found an explosives factory, which primarily made firecrackers, as well as abandoned vehicles, including a Lexus luxury SUV. At the heart of Dera Sacha Sauda is a registered charity, eligible for tax exemption. But behind it lurks a complex financial web, primarily involving three companies — Hakkikat Entertainment, ARZ Unique Enterprises and Samag Enterprises.

These companies are all linked through common directors and shareholders, many of whom are devotees, and share the same addresses.

There are reports of a mystery trail of over ₹51 crore through at least 15 other ghost companies. Hakkikat Entertainment produced Ram Rahim Singh’s music videos and five movies. Hakkikat’s balance sheet shows that the guru’s movies were not in the ₹100 crore club as was claimed by his PR team, but were loss-making productions.

ARZ Unique Enterprises owns MSG Resort in Sirsa, while Samag Enterprises brings out Sach Kahoon, a mouthpiece for the Dera.

The sect seems to have also adopted plastic currency in local markets. During search operations, officials recovered several plastic coins showing the existence of an illegal and separate monetary system, though limited, in the Dera.

What complicates the picture is the many financial dealings between the Dera Sacha Sauda and the for-profit companies run by Ram Rahim Singh’s devotees. Any investment by non-profit charities in for-profit activities is explicitly banned under the Income Tax Act.

What also raises questions are the many strange, and unexplained, transactions on the books of the companies that produced movies, published newspapers and ran resorts for the Dera. There are mysterious transactions in unexplained goods and other activities.

Dera Sacha Sauda’s case is not an isolated instance. In fact, it has come under scrutiny only because of the criminal activities of Ram Rahim Singh that were bravely reported by a few women and upheld without any fear or favour by a judge.

Given the firm judicial pronouncement against Ram Rahim Singh and the public focus on his nefarious activities, it is possible that some action would be taken against the financial misdemeanour too. However, it is also possible that as the public attention wanes away, the Dera could be back to doing what they have been doing all these years. Some sequels cannot be ruled out.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 8:49:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-is-the-lowdown-deras-money-trail/article19699765.ece

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