ED summons actor Dino Morea and DJ Aqeel in Sterling Biotech bank fraud case

New Delhi: The ED has summoned Bollywood actor Dino Morea and DJ Aqeel for questioning in the Sterling Biotech alleged bank fraud case even as it widened its probe into the money laundering case to include loans issued to the firm by overseas branches of Indian banks, officials said Monday.

The actor and the popular disc jockey (DJ) have been asked to depose before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) later this week as it has got evidence that the two were paid some money by the Gujarat-based pharmaceutical group in the past, they said. They will be questioned about the circumstances of these payments made out of the proceeds of crime identified in the case and their statements will be recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the officials said. It is an exercise to know their side of the story, they added.

The officials said the payments pertain to a time period between 2011 and 2012 when the two reportedly attended some events organised by the Sandesara brothers, the promoters and owners of the group, in Delhi and some fee amount to the tune of a few lakhs were paid to them from the funds that the agency considers as the "proceeds of crime" of the bank fraud. While Morea, also a model, has worked in a number of Hindi films, Aqeel is a popular DJ. The two could not be reached for comments. Meanwhile, the agency has widened the probe in the case as it has found evidence to suggest that loans extended to Sterling Biotech's overseas arms were defrauded.

The total volume of the bank fraud in this case would be around Rs 14,500 crore and this is a bigger scam than the PNB fraud, officials said. The PNB fraud has been allegedly perpetrated by the diamantaire duo, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, along with others, and it came to light last year. The total fraud amount pegged in the PNB case is about Rs 13,400 crore. The ED had earlier pegged the Sterling Biotech fraud case to be around Rs 8,100 crore.

The agency suspects that a modus operandi similar to the one used in the PNB scam, which included issuance of fake letters of undertaking of banks, took place in this case too, they said. The ED has already made one of its largest PMLA attachments and frozen assets worth over Rs 14,000 crore of the group in India and abroad till now, including oil rigs in Nigeria and ships registered in Panama. The alleged bank loan fraud is suspected to have been perpetrated by the Vadodara-based pharma company and its main promoters Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Sandesara and Deepti Sandesara, all of whom are absconding.

The Sandesaras are also under probe for their alleged nexus with some high-profile politicians by the ED as also by the CBI and the Income Tax Department under criminal sections that deal with corruption and tax evasion respectively. "The main promoters (of the Sterling group) have not only siphoned off loan funds to finance their Nigerian oil business but also for their personal purposes," the agency said. It said loan funds were "diverted for non-mandated purposes, layered and laundered through a web of multiple domestic as well as offshore entities".

"Investigations revealed that the group was engaged in round-tripping of standby letters of credit (SBLCs) funds to the tune of Rs 4,500 crore by violating conditions laid by the RBI while sanctioning the loan," the ED said. It is alleged that the company took loans of over Rs 5,383 crore from a domestic consortium led by Andhra Bank which had turned into non-performing assets. The agency has charged that the "promoters (Sandesaras) incorporated 249 domestic and 96 offshore shell companies" to execute the alleged bank loan scam.

The ED registered a criminal case in the alleged fraud case based on a CBI FIR and charge sheet. The promoters of the firm, also alleged to be the main conspirators of the bank fraud apart from their employees and bank executives, are absconding and have been reported to be based in Nigera from where India is trying to extradite them.

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