Diamond merchant Manoj Punamia, one of the key accused in the scam involving former Jharkhand CM Madhu Koda, was arrested on Saturday night upon his arrival at the Mumbai airport from abroad. Punamia, who was barred from travelling abroad, had left the country last week giving a slip to immigration officials despite a lookout notice issued against him. Investigators believe he may have gone to Dubai to eliminate the transaction trails the sleuths were probing.
Immigration officials detained Punamia and handed him over to the Enforcement Directorate (ED). He was later flown to the Delhi office of the agency where he is being questioned.
The Mumbai-based bullion trader holds the key to the multi-crore Koda scam probe. He had, during his interrogation in March, given some vital details to the ED.
Punamia’s foreign trips have come as a shock to the investigators who are yet to receive a response to the letters rogatory they had sent to authorities of nearly half-a-dozen other countries, including UAE and Thailand, to verify information of his illegitimate investments in their jurisdiction.
Koda, with the help of his associates and Punamia, is alleged to have invested in highend properties in Dubai worth a few hundred crores.
Transactions in banks in these countries were also being verified and letters rogatory had specifically asked to seize any balance remaining in these accounts belonging to the accused.
Punamia was considered the key player in the scam, and as the ED and income tax officials claimed, he had used his Balaji group of companies to launder dirty money of politicians. His association with Koda was established when some of the ex-chief minister’s close aides were found to be directors in the Balaji companies.
Some of these companies were found to have made hawala and legal money transfers to the tune of $110 million to other front companies of the cartel based in Dubai. Punamia had also told investigators in March that he had been negotiating with a Swedish law firm to invest there. He had also paid $15,000 to the law firm in question to set up a business entity in Sweden.
One of the tainted firms, Balaji Universal Trade, had made transactions amounting to Rs 640 crore through the Zaveri Bazar branch of the Union Bank of India between November 2006 and December 2008. Investigators had termed these transactions “circular trading” and claimed that the money was transferred to some countries through hawala.
This was, however, denied by Punamia.