Gold bars, jewellery, and cash amounting to a total of Rs 417 crore is what the Enforcement Directorate recovered last month when they conducted searches at 39 locations linked to the Mahadev betting app. The app made headlines last week when Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor, who have appeared in ads for the app, were summoned by the Enforcement Directorate for questioning.
The probe agency has made four arrests in the case, while the two masterminds and promoters of the app are based in Dubai.
The Mahadev app came under the crosshairs of probe agencies only after a Rs 200-crore wedding in the UAE this February, paid for entirely in cash.
Here’s a look at how the app managed to bypass rules and flummox authorities to amass a fortune:
Luring In New Customers
Mahadev Online betting app was operated by Saurabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal from Dubai. Both of them belong to Chhattisgarh’s Bhilai.
The company used to get new customers by regularly creating new websites and closed groups on chat apps. They would often run paid advertisements on social media apps and try to get people to text their numbers to earn profits. ED in its complaint said that the numbers could be contacted only through WhatsApp.
One of Mahadev’s customer care executives would then guide the person on creating a new User ID, after which they would be provided two numbers. One would be used to deposit money into their account and make bets, while the other one was for contacting customer care and encashing their accumulated points or money.
All the accounts being used to collect or payout money were benami accounts which had been opened fraudulently.
All the bets and games that Mahadev ran would be rigged in a manner that the company would not lose money. Most new users would continue pooling money into their accounts after making profits initially, but in the long run a user would almost always end up incurring heavy losses.
Network Of Call Centres
Not only were the company’s illegal bank accounts spread out, but so were their call centres. Mahadev had opened hundreds of call centres across 4 countries – Malaysia, Thailand, India, and UAE – which would run 24*7 to create subsidiary apps and websites and interact with customers.
ED’s probe revealed that the betting app would witness transactions of thousands of crores on a daily basis. The company was making a profit of Rs 200 crore per day, the probe agency claimed.
Nexus Of Police, Bureaucrats And Politicians
The investigation has shown that the Mahadev Online Book App is run from a central head office in the United Arab Emirates, officials said. It operates by franchising “Panel/Branches” to their known associates on a 70-30 profit ratio, the agency said.
Large-scale hawala operations are done to siphon off the proceeds of betting to offshore accounts.
About 30 call centres were opened in major Indian cities, and these were being handled by Anil Dammani and Sunil Dammani, two very close associates of Saurabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal. Both the Dammani brothers have been arrested by the ED.
Police, politicians, and bureaucrats were given a stake in keeping this syndicate running.
One of Anil Dammani’s tasks was to send some of the money coming through Hawala to the police, politicians, and bureaucrats who were on board. This ensured that the app did not come under the radar of the probe agencies.
During interrogation, Anil Dammani said that in the last two years, he along with his brother, had done illegal transactions worth Rs 60 to 65 crore.
Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Kapil Sharma, Hina Khan, and several other actors have been called in for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate. The reason: They performed at the Dubai wedding in February and were paid through hawala transactions.
ED said that 17 Bollywood celebrities were brought by a chartered plane to Dubai to perform at the wedding. All of them were allegedly paid crores of rupees but through hawala.
Ranbir Kapoor is also accused of promoting one of the apps that was run by the syndicate.
Authorities said that the actors are being questioned to help provide insights into the source of the money they had received from the betting app.