Kolkata/New Delhi: Noted Bengali film producer and distributor Shrikant Mohta was on Thursday interrogated at his office in the city by CBI officials regarding the multi-crore Rose Valley chit fund scam that flourished under the Mamata Banerjee government of Bengal.

Mohta, co-owner of Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF) that has been making a bulk of Bengali films for more than a decade by rehashing Telugu hits, was served a third notice by the investigating agency. The CBI has charged him with "acceptance of money from Rose Valley". "He had been called to join the investigation", a CBI source said, adding that Mohta has been evasive in his conduct so far.

Mohta had failed to respond to the previous notices from the CBI. On one of the occasions, he had merely sent his lawyer to the agency with some documents. As the documents raised more questions than they answered, the CBI summoned him again, but Mohta kept evading a meeting with the agency under some or the other pretext, said sources. The CBI was left with no alternative than to catch him unawares with an abrupt raid.

Mohta was questioned by the officials at his office located at a shopping mall in south Kolkata. He was first detained at his posh residence in the Kasba neighbourhood and, from there, taken to the CGO Complex in Salt Lake for further interrogation.

As Mohta could not satisfy the officers with his answers and explanations, he was arrested. 

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) also probing the Rose Valley scam, too. Chairman of the chit fund firm Gautam Kundu is already in jail, fighting a case of money laundering.

At 11 AM, a group of CBI officers visited the SVF office on the 19th floor of a business complex in Kasba to interrogate Mohta. His personal guards obstructed the CBI officers, after which the agency had to seek the help of the local police.

To the utter surprise of the officers, even the cops from the local police station joined the gang of Mohta’s personal guards. In fact, the private guards manhandled some of the CBI officers. But then, better sense prevailed in the police that let the CBI team take Mohta to the CGO Complex in Salt Lake.

Why Rose Valley and Mohta’s SVF fell apart

Mohta’s name had figured during the investigation by the ED as well — as seen in the file it handed over to the CBI. Equipped with the facts of the case, when the CBI questioned a jailed Kundu, he told the officers that Shri Venkatesh Films had entered an agreement with Rose Valley in 2010. Under the agreement, according to the confession of Kundu, SVF was supposed to screen 70 of its films on the television channels of Rose Valley.

Subsequently, Rose Valley submitted before the court that the firm also had the first right to all new releases from SVF. However, the 30 films that SVF gave to Rose Valley were mostly old releases. This, Rose Valley contended, was a clear case of cheating. It was to ascertain the truth of this claim that the CBI interrogated and then arrested Mohta.
This is not the first time the CBI has interrogated Mohta. He has been to the agency’s office at the CGO Complex earlier in connection with the same Rose Valley scam.

List of accused, suspects include TMC leaders, film stars

Sudip Bandyopadhyay

In 2017, CBI had arrested TMC MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay in connection with the Rose Valley chit fund scam. Ever since, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been crying “vendetta”. “We strongly condemn the politically vindictive attitude of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. They have arrested our Parliamentary Party Leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay. He is a veteran politician and senior leader of our Party,” she had tweeted at the time of Bandyopadhyay’s arrest.

Mamata later brazened it out by saying it was not a big deal “if Bandyopadhyay had accepted Rs 2-3 lakh” from the chit fund firm! 

The CBI had taken eyewitness accounts of Gautam Kundu of Rose Valley, who had spoken of Bandyopadhyay’s involvement in the chit fund. The documents and computer hard disks recovered from Rose Valley’s locations had Bandyopadhyay’s name in several places.

Bandyopadhyay had toured foreign destinations on money obtained from Rose Valley.

According to the CBI, Bandyopadhyay had written a letter recommending Kundu for some favours. He had also recommended several people known to him for jobs in Rose Valley.
Bandyopadhyay is facing charges under IPC Sections 420 (cheating), 408 (criminal breach of trust), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) and various sections of Prize, Chits and Money Circulation (Banning) Act of 1978.

Tapas Pal

Two years ago, the CBI had arrested actor and TMC MP Tapas Pal, too, in connection with the Rose Valley scam.

Pal’s name had figured in the statements of Rose Valley founder Kundu and many of his employees. Pal’s claim that he had received no money from the chit fund did not impress the investigating officers in the face of hard evidence against the former actor.

Pal had acted as the director in the film division of Rose Valley chit fund and received money for his role. CBI found evidence of money transfers from the Rose Valley accounts into Pal’s personal bank accounts apart from evidence of him having received cash from the same source.

Pal was arrested after he failed to explain why he took money from the managers of an illegal chit fund.

A minister not named by agencies yet, a former president of TMC student wing

The CBI is following the money trail to a TMC leader and minister who represents a north Bengal constituency, who could be interrogated next.

Even the student wing of the TMC is alleged to have promoted the chit fund of Rose Valley. A former president of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad has been named in the case. He is an accused in the Saradha scam, too.

What is Rose Valley scam?

It is a simple case of a fraudulent chit fund. Rose Valley promised mind-boggling ROI to its investors while the managers of the fund disappeared when the investors — mostly lower middle-class people — staked claim to the returns.

While the firm had promised a 21% annual return, the SEBI objected to the bypassing of relevant laws — most glaringly, the fact that Rose Valley was not registered with the regulator — to make such an offer.

So far, the ED has attached assets worth thousands of crores belonging to Rose Valley and its associates and accomplices in the crime. In separate raids, it attached properties worth Rs 1,250 crore (December 2016), Rs 293 crore (July 2017), Rs 3,017 crore (October 2017) and Rs 2,300 crore (March 2018).

The volume of the scam is worth more than Rs 80,000 crore.

Geographical spread of Rose Valley chit fund scam

While Bengal has been the epicentre of the Rose Valley chit fund scam, people of the neighbouring states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam and Tripura (that has a string Bengali connection) have suffered, too.

The TMC says the scam began taking shape under the CPI(M) rule. Lending credence to the allegation is the fact that this was one of the electoral planks of the BJP that defeated the communist party in the 2018 election of Tripura, bringing an end to the Manik Sarkar government.

The CBI and ED have raided Rose Valley offices in Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. Many offices of the firm shut down out of panic before the agencies reached them. The investors from these states have no clue whatsoever where to recover their money from.