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Mumbai court orders first assets confiscation under PMLA

Mumbai court orders first assets confiscation under PMLA

New Delhi/Mumbai, Jan 25 (PTI) In a first, a special court in Mumbai has allowed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to "confiscate" over Rs 89 crore funds after the partner of an accused firm in a money-laundering case was declared a proclaimed offender, an official statement said on Friday.The ED said the court of special PMLA judge M S Azmi in Mumbai had ordered confiscation of bank balance worth Rs 89.56 crore, following the central probe agency's money-laundering investigation in the SpeakAsia online marketing scam."This is the first case where the agency has been able to confiscate liquid cash of such magnitude and added it to the central government's kitty," the ED statement said.A senior official said getting a confiscation order under the anti-money laundering law, enforced in the country by the ED, was a very lengthy process, involving multiple stages of investigation, filing of chargesheets, trial in courts and further appeals.The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was enacted in 2002 and implemented from 2005, but an order to confiscate assets and deposit those with the government exchequer was never issued before, he added.Only the recently-enacted Fugitive Economic Offenders Act had a provision for immediate confiscation of assets and the cases registered under it, like the ones against Vijay Mallya and Mehul Choksi, were still in progress, the official said.The ED had registered a criminal case against SpeakAsia Online Pvt Ltd (SAOPL), its officials and a few others in 2012 under the PMLA. It is alleged that the firm duped investors of funds worth about Rs 700 crore.The ED investigation had revealed that the accused Singapore-based firm, "in connivance with its foreign associate Haren Venture Pvt Ltd, Singapore and its three representatives in India -- Tulsiyat Tek Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, Kritanj Management and Allied Services, Mumbai and Seamless Outsourcing LLP, Mumbai -- had floated a web-based money circulation scheme through its website, www.speakasiaonline.com", the agency said."Money collected from gullible investors in the guise of subscription fee for online survey was sent out to Singapore in the bank account of HVPL," it added.The ED said the Rs 89.56 crore "proceeds of crime" of the alleged online marketing scam were traced by it to the "current account" owned by Seamless Outsourcing LLP, Mumbai and the amount was attached by the agency in March, 2015.The agency, the statement added, had subsequently filed a chargesheet before the special court in Mumbai against the partner of the accused firm, Mansoor N Patel. Patel failed to appear before the court, despite summons issued against him, it said.The ED then moved the court to get Patel declared as a "proclaimed offender".When Patel did not appear before the court despite this order, the ED moved to confiscate the assets under the PMLA, which was approved by the court, the agency said.The case had come to light in 2011 when the Mumbai crime branch registered a criminal case against the group and its various entities in India and abroad.The police probe had claimed to have found that SpeakAsia promoters had started an online marketing survey company in March, 2010. It had then asked investors to deposit Rs 11,000 and fill the survey forms of some multinational firms and on successful submission of the same, they were promised Rs 52,000 in return.Initially, the company had paid the investors back but later, it wound up its business, duping the investors, the police and the ED had found.The company is alleged to have duped over 24 lakh investors.According to the police complaint, SpeakAsia had allegedly remitted over Rs 900 crore to Singapore. The money was sent from India to banks in Singapore and from there to Dubai, Italy and the UK. However, the money came back from the UK again to the UAE (Dubai) and then to India.The Mumbai police had filed a chargesheet in the case in 2013 and apart from the ED, the Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) under the Corporate Affairs Ministry had also probed the case. PTI NES RC