Official investigations under the direct supervision of governments into alleged financial improprieties are often undermined by political or other extraneous considerations. The investigation conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the gross financial fraud committed by Pearl Agrotech Corporation Limited (PACL) seems to be one such case.
In a report from last year, Millennium Post had published how the CBI had ‘compromised’ India’s biggest Rs 47,000-crore Ponzi scam investigation. Curiously, Pearls Group MD Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, against whom the CBI had registered a case for allegedly duping five crore customers by promising them land and goods, was not arrested even for a day. The rationale given by the CBI is that Bhangoo is cooperating with the investigation.
Suffice to say, it is a weak explanation, considering the sum of money involved in the Ponzi scheme. Moreover, in all other Ponzi scams cases across West Bengal and Odisha, where the amount is not even 10 percent of the above case, promoters have been arrested. Forget promoters, even minor accomplices to these scams were hounded and arrested by the CBI.
Even today, more than year later Bhangoo continues to be a free man. Despite the availability of clinching evidence, it is apparent that powerful backers are seeking to prevent the arrest of the Pearls Group MD. Despite testifying against numerous partners and cooperating with investigating authorities, former American stockbroker Jordan Belfort spent 22 months in a US prison. He published a memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, which was adapted into a film, released in 2013. Closer to home, former Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh, allegedly involved in the Saradha scam, cooperated with the investigators, but continued to serve jail-time for his troubles. Therefore, from all possible angles, it seems that different standards are being used to punish those guilty of one scam from another.
Fortunately, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), a watch-dog for the country’s capital markets, imposed a penalty of Rs 7,269.5 crore on PACL Ltd and its four directors for illegal and fraudulent mobilisation of funds from the public. According to SEBI, the company deserves “maximum penalty” for such large-scale cheating of the common man. Seeking to send a strong message to the securities market at large, SEBI said, “In the recent past, the country has suffered a lot at the hands of entities who indulge in such illegal money mobilisation under various schemes, wherein hard earned money of the common man has been duped”. Strangely enough, unlike the Saradha scam, which received widespread coverage in the national press, the noise against PACL has been relatively muted.
In bringing the Saradha scam to the forefront of national politics, it is clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to make electoral inroads into West Bengal. It is not to suggest that such scams should not have been highlighted. The press is duty-bound to report on such matters. However, the excessive media coverage that the Saradha scam received in comparison to a PACL scam paints a rather unfortunate picture for both the ruling establishment and its supporters in certain sections of the media. Suffice to say, the ruling establishment at the Centre has failed to make any inroads into West Bengal politics.