Chit fund scam: Saradha shadow over football field

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Kolkata:  The Saradha Group collapse, which destroyed the savings of lakhs of poor investors in West Bengal, has also hit the state's biggest passion - football.

Football is expensive and Bengal's many clubs, the legendary Mohun Bagan and East Bengal included, have been funded over the last few years by a host of multi-level-marketing companies, also known as chit funds.

These chit funds have contributed about Rs 25 crore a year to club football in the state, money that looks set to dry up with Saradha going bust and the Mamata Banerjee government forced to crack down on such companies.

The Sudipta-Sen-owned Saradha had invested both in Mohun Bagan (Rs 1.8 crore in 2010-11) and rivals, East Bengal (Rs 3.5 crore since 2010). The mysterious Mr Sen, now in police custody, had even been gifted a life membership by East Bengal.

Debashish Dutta of Mohun Bagan admits, "This has been a big shock for football. Small clubs will suffer more. Big clubs like us will also suffer because our budgets will definitely come down." There are 325 clubs in West Bengal registered with the Indian Football Association.

Prayag, one of 70 companies against whom the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has received complaints for allegedly running get-rich-soon schemes, sponsors the Kolkata-based United Sports. Annual Budget - 12 to 15 crore. The team's official, Kuntal Mustafa, says "We hope that this year too we will have a very good football team, a formidable side in India. The Prayag management have assured us of support."

But Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta of East Bengal too says he foresees problems initially and suggests that the state government should offer help.

Among the many companies that East Bengal lists on its website as benefactors is Rose Valley, a company that runs financial schemes in West Bengal and is being investigated by market regulator SEBI. But then, the East Bengal website also has SEBI's logo on it.

SEBI has denied sponsoring the club. A bemused Mr Dasgupta was unable to explain the logo. And since then the logo has been removed.

But there is still speculation about how the SEBI logo got on the East Bengal website in the first place. Many say it is perhaps a coincidence but in Saradha chief Sudipta Sen's letter to the CBI, he specifically mentions East Bengal official Debabrata Das who allegedly took Rs 40 crore from him by flaunting his connections with SEBI chairman UK Sinha and even Pranab Mukherjee. 

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