Here’s what we know so far about the operations of the app:
Based out of Dubai
Started by Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, who are natives of Chhattisgarh‘s Bhilai, the app is an extension of the duo’s activities as small-time bookies. They are currently suspected to be operating out of Dubai.
According to the ED, the Mahadev app is an umbrella syndicate arranging online platforms to aid illegal betting websites in enrolling new users and launder money through a layered web of benami bank accounts.
“Large scale hawala operations are done to siphon off the proceeds of betting to off-shore accounts. Large expenditure in cash is also being done in India for advertising of betting websites and self-grandizement necessary to attract new Users and franchise (panel) seekers,” a statement from the government agency read.
History of offences
Friday’s searches are not the first instance, with the agency already conducting searches in Chhattisgarh and arrested four accused including the chief liaisoner of this betting syndicate which was organizing payment of the bribes to senior government functionaries as ‘protection money’.Till date, ED has conducted searches at 39 locations across Raipur, Bhopal, Mumbai and Kolkata and has seized illegal assets worth Rs 417 crore.With the promoters of the app absconding, the agency has taken up investigation overseas, with the PMLA Special Court at Raipur issuing non-bailable warrants against them.
Associates in the game
The investigation also identified major players involved in the money laundering operations, notably Kolkata-based Vikash Chhaparia, who managed hawala-related operations. ED’s searches at Chhaparia’s premises and his associates’ locations led to the freezing of assets worth Rs 236.3 crore in the Indian stock market.
Searches were also conducted at the premises of Rapid Travels – operated by Dheeraj Ahuja and Vishal Ahuja – in Bhopal. According to the agency, this was the company responsible for the entire ticketing operations of the app’s promoters, family, business associates and even for celebrities who were endorsing these betting websites like fairplay.com.
“The illicit cash earnings from the betting panels were cleverly deposited by Ahuja brothers with main ticket providers, and the wallet balance was used to book domestic and international tickets. Rapid Travels was involved in making travel arrangements for most events of Mahadev group, including the annual star-studded events organized in UAE in the month of September,” the ED claims.
“ED conducted searches at his known premises and at his associates like Govid Kedia. It was found that with the help of Kedia, Chaparia through his entities – Perfect Plan Investments LLP, Exim General Trading FZCO and Techpro IT Solutions LLC – was investing heavily in the market,” the agency adds.
The release said assets worth Rs 160 crore in DEMAT holdings of Govind Kumar Kedia have also been frozen by the agency under the PMLA. Searches at the premises of Kedia also resulted in the seizure of Rs 18 lacs, and gold and jewellery valued at Rs 13 crore.
In addition to the mounting evidence against the promoters, one half of the duo – Sourabh Chandrakar – recently got hitched in a lavish ceremony in the United Arab Emirates, which reportedly cost around Rs 200 crore.
“In February 2023, Chandrakar got married at RAK, UAE, and for this marriage ceremony, the promoters of Mahadev APP spent around Rs 200 crore in cash,” the government agency said.
Multiple celebrities have also been caught up in this web of opulence, with digital evidence showing singers Neha Kakkar and Vishal Dadlani, as well as Sunny Leone, Tiger Shroff and other celebrities in attendance at the extravagant wedding.
“Private jets were hired to ferry family members from Nagpur to UAE. Celebrities were hired to perform in the marriage. Wedding planners, dancers, decorators, etc., were hired from Mumbai and hawala channels were used to make payments in cash,” the ED added.’