The Income Tax department here has busted a Rs 150 crore ‘ponzy scheme’ — a fraudulent investment scheme that pays returns to investors through illegal funds — which allegedly duped poor investors from villages and small cities of West Bengal, Orissa and other adjoining areas.

The department has seized cash, bank drafts and fixed deposits worth Rs 12.57 crore from the premises of the firm and has detected unaccounted income to the tune of Rs 150 crore– the biggest ever tax disclosure in West Bengal in recent times through such dubious schemes also known as ‘chit fund’.

A ‘ponzi scheme’ (popular local name) is an illegal investment scheme that pays returns to investors, not from the actual profit earned by the operators of the scheme but from illegal funds or money paid by subsequent investors thereby evading taxes and duping poor people, a senior I-T officer said.

The department is also taking the help of police to trace the numerous investment agents who canvassed for the illegal scheme in the villages and small cities.

“The ‘ponzi’ firm, run by three individuals based in Asansol, used to take huge deposits from public by promising unusually high returns. A large part of the money mobilised was siphoned off by the promoters. The money so collected was partly used to honour the deposits which mature and the balance was siphoned off as cash and investments, sources said.

The promoters had appointed agents who used to enroll poor villagers in West Bengal, Orissa and adjoining areas for these schemes, promising returns between 12-15 per cent. The illegal business kept running as the deposits kept increasing year after year and when the investors came to take the money on maturity, the individual was paid to keep the trust factor intact. Out of greed often people re-invested the matured sum in order to make more money, sources said.

The department conducted searches on the firm and has computed a tax liability of Rs 50 crore to be paid to the I-T before March 31 this year, they said.

The deposits mobilised by the company were not shown in the account books to evade taxes, they said.

The department seized Rs 5.67 crore cash, Rs 4.90 bank drafts and fixed deposits worth Rs 2 crore during its operations.

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