INDIA. Mumbai: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested an absconding accused, Harchand Singh Gill, in a Rs 60,000 crore ponzi PACL investment fraud after his deportation from Fiji on Monday night.
The suspect was brought to the Rouse Avenue District Court in New Delhi, where he was remanded to the custody of the CBI. He was absconding in this case since its inception, and a trial court had issued an open-dated, non-bailable warrant against him. Besides, a “red notice” was also published through INTERPOL, the CBI statement read.
The arrest was the result of initiatives taken by the CBI during “Operation Trishul” last year, when a request for issuance of an Interpol Red Notice against Gill was sent and his deportation was pursued through the National Central Bureau (NCB), Suva, Fiji. He was brought back to India by the CBI team, upon being deported from Fiji. Under “Operation Trishul,” around 30 fugitives have been successfully brought back to India.
Gill was the director and shareholder of Pearls Golden Forest Ltd. (PGFL), a Pearls Group company, and was alleged to be present in the board meetings. He allegedly conspired with other directors to operate the collective investment scheme (CIS) without any statutory approval.
The CBI began the investigation against the Pearls Group and its founder, Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, on February 19, 2014, on allegations of cheating over 5.5 crore gullible investors by offering them land in return for their investments. The Supreme Court of India directed the holding of a preliminary inquiry.
The investigation found that PACL had gotten crores of rupees from investors by giving them fake letters about land allotments. When Punjab and Haryana High Court, directed the company to wind up the scheme and refund money to the investors, a similar fraudulent scheme was operated under the name of a second private company-PGFL.
The funds collected from new investors of this second company were used to repay the earlier investors of PACL and stave off criminal prosecution. Funds were raised by PACL/ PGFL through a vast network of over 23 lakh commission agents, of whom nearly 1700 were top-level field associates, and received a monthly commission of lakhs of rupees, to lure the investors.
Gill and others stole crores of rupees from almost 5.5 crore investors all over the country by saying they were selling and buying agricultural land and promising high returns.
A series of searches were conducted by the CBI during February 2014 at the office premises and residences of directors in Delhi, Jaipur (Rajasthan), Chandigarh, Punjab, & Haryana, which led to the recovery of huge amounts of incriminating documents related to deposits from the public and diversion of funds. The accused fraudulently diverted nearly 132.99 million Australian dollars to Australian shell companies, the CBI stated.
Besides, none of the land allotted to the investors had plot markings, and none of the lands was in the name of said companies in Delhi, the NCR, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, or Andhra Pradesh. The investors did not receive any plot/land allotment letter, and almost all of them lost their money. Most of the land was either nonexistent, government land, or not sold by the owner.
The CBI arrested four accused, including the then CMD & promoter director of a Chandigarh-based private company, the then MD & promoter director of a Jaipur-based private company, and two then directors of said Jaipur-based company, on January 8, 2016. A charge sheet was filed against the accused on April 7, 2016.
On December 22, 2021, 11 more suspects from Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, and Bhubaneshwar were caught. On December 31, 2021, a Supplementary Chargesheet was filed with the Court of Special CBI Judge, Rouse Avenue District Court. It named 27 accused people, including three private companies, and these 11 accused people.
The PACL, PGFL, and Pearls Australasia Pty Limited have been named in the CBI charge sheet. The arrested directors include Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, Sukhdev Singh, Gurmeet Singh, and Subrata Bhattacharya. The arrested PACL executives include Chander Bhushan Dhillon, Prem Seth, Manmohan Kamal Mahajan, Mohanlal Sehajpal, Kanwaljit Singh Toor, businessmen Praveen Kumar Agarwal, Manoj Kumar Jain, Akash Agarwal, Anil Kumar Khemka, Subhash Agarwal, and Rajesh Agarwal. Kanwaljit Toor, who died in custody in January last year.
PACL was set up in Jaipur on February 13, 1996, as a CIS offering the land at cheaper rates. It was wound up by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on August 22, 2014, and its property was attached in December 2015. The Justice R M Lodha Committee was set up by SEBI on February 2, 2016, to sell the PACL property and refund investors’ money.
The Lodha Committee ordered the auction sale of 27,133 properties on July 25, 2016. The investors were duped for over Rs. 49,100 crores (now the amount has swelled to Rs. 60,000 crores with accumulated interest). Rs. 831.78 crores have been refunded to 18.43 lakh investors so far.
Also Read: Ten People Arrested on Charges of Illegally Selling PACL’s Attached Land in Karnataka