Mumbai: A fortnight after questioning the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday quizzed another top leader of the party, Nitin Sardesai, in connection with an alleged payment default probe involving Dadar’s Kohinoor Square tower project.
Sardesai, a former Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Mahim constituency, was grilled for over six-and-half hours at the agency’s Ballard Pier office where he showed up at around 11.30 am. The questioning went for well past 6 pm.
Though Sardesai evaded media after he emerged out of the ED office following his questioning, sources said he was quizzed over his partnership in Matoshree Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, which had invested in the Kohinoor Square tower project, and the share he got when the company exited the project in 2008 after netting Rs 80 crore.
Sources said that Sardesai was one of the nine partners in Matoshree Infra which had invested Rs 4 crore in Kohinoor Properties Pvt Ltd (KPPL), a consortium formed along with former Chief Minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi’s son, Unmesh, and a CA firm.
Of the Rs 4 crore, while Rs 3 crore came as loan from a cooperative bank, another Rs 1 crore was chipped in by two other investors. Sardesai, sources said, held 10 per cent shares in Matoshree Infra, while Thackeray held 25 per cent.
KPPL had then formed another entity, Kohinoor CTNL, in which the now cash strapped Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) went on to invest Rs 200 crore in equity and another Rs 25 crore in loans.
Three years after entering into the joint venture, IL&FS withdrew from the Kohinoor Square project in 2008 after booking losses and surrendered its shares for Rs. 90 crore, thereby suffering a hit of Rs 135 crore.
However, Matoshree Infra, which had invested Rs four crore allegedly walked away with a premium of Rs 80 crore while withdrawing from the project some months later. Matoshree had also recovered its investment of Rs 4 crore along with interests.
The probe so far has revealed Thackeray had allegedly received Rs 20 crore, out of the Rs 80 crore made by the company, while the rest Rs 60 crore was distributed among the other eight partners, Sardesai being one of those.
“He (Sardesai) was asked about his partnership contribution in Matoshree Infra as well as the investments he made following the receipt of the money from the proceeds made while exiting Kohinoor Square project,” sources said.
It may be recalled that another partner in Matoshree Infra, Rajan Shirodkar—who has been questioned for four times so far-- and Thackeray, who was questioned once—had also been asked similar questions by the agency to find out the legitimacy of the proceeds in the deal.
Sources said that the other partners Matoshree Infra are going to be probed by the agency in the coming days. Some other investors, who were said to have invested Rs. 36 crore in the project at the instance of Shirodkar, are also going to be questioned.
Those investors too had withdrawn their investment along with interest following exit of Matoshree from the project. In 2011 again, Kohinoor CTNL had entered into an agreement to sell certain premises of the tower to IL&FS to settle the loan amount and again defaulted, the ED probe has revealed.
Unmesh continued with the project till 2017, before it changed hands. By then, the cumulative losses suffered by IL&FS is said to have gone upto Rs 860 crore. Unmesh has also been quizzed for four times so far.
By Debasish Panigrah