ith Unitech family contradicting each other, probe to trace foreign assets hits a wall

The traceability of foreign assets of former Unitech promoter Sanjay Chandra and his wife Preeti Chandra, who played a vital role in managing the assets, has become a major roadblock in the probe initiated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Unitech family members Sanjay, his brother, father, and his wife, are behind bars for siphoning off homebuyers’ money.

It has been alleged that the erstwhile promoters of Unitech siphoned off homebuyers’ money and parked over Rs 5,000 crore in overseas tax havens. In April, the top court had directed the ED to brief it about the steps to bring back this money. However, not much has been achieved by the investigating agency as the Chandra family has not offered cooperation.

Earlier this week, the investigating agency told the Supreme Court that Sanjay and his father Ramesh Chandra, both in prison, have contradicted statements made by Preeti, and sought her further interrogation.

In May this year, the ED had told the Supreme Court that investigations in connection with the foreign assets of Sanjay Chandra in the British Virgin Island, Singapore, Mauritius, and the UAE, have “come to a dead end”, as his wife — who was actively involved in the huge money laundering operations — has refused to cooperate.

On August 4, Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, representing the ED, submitted before a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud that Sanjay and his father have contradicted the statement made by Preeti, and the agency needs to confront the family members once again, to get a clue on locating the foreign assets.

Divan said writing to the countries, where these assets are present, would be a long and tedious process, and urged the court to allow it to interrogate Preeti, who was operating the TriKar group, which has been named after the couple’s children, from the UAE, and is fully aware of everything — which includes structuring and layering of various transactions in money laundering.

Divan said “we are after foreign assets”, and added that Preeti is not cooperating with the agency, and this is a peculiar case where family members are contradicting each other. The ED had interrogated Preeti in June on two occasions; however, it did not yield any leads on tracing the foreign assets.

Divan said the probe in tracing foreign assets can only move forward if Preeti cooperates with the agency.

The ED had told the top court that Preeti was an active participant in concealing and laundering proceeds of crime to the tune of around Rs 400 crore through shell companies under the name of TriKar Group, having entities in these tax haven countries of British Virgin Islands, Singapore, Mauritius, and the UAE.

The ED has consistently maintained that without cooperation from the Chandra family, it is difficult to trace the foreign assets and bring back the money.

According to the ED, Preeti was involved in influencing the witnesses in the case, dissipating the assets, and also played a role in the Tihar jail episode where officials helped exchange vital information for dissipating crime proceeds between her and her jailed husband.

Preeti Chandra was arrested in connection with the money laundering case registered by the ED in 2018 against the ex-Unitech promoters.

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