New Delhi: Over the past three days, raids on the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda, the base of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, convicted of rape last month, have underscored his extravagant lifestyle - buildings shaped like the Seven Wonders, luxury interiors and a fleet of heavily modified cars.
- Ram Rahim used "ghost" companies to fund his commercial ventures
- Raids reveal luxury resort, heavily modified cars at Ram Rahim's base
- Ram Rahim was convicted of rape last month
The grandeur seems to be at odds with the functioning of a religious sect.
In purely legal terms, Dera Sacha Sauda is a registered charity, eligible for tax exemption. Its funds can only be used for charitable purposes; any deviation can result in penalties.
But what explains the funds behind the Dera's foray into commercial ventures, much of which appears to be built around promoting Ram Rahim?
In the past five years for instance, Ram Rahim has starred in self-made music videos, and 5 high budget movies - all platforms for unabashed self-promotion.
The Dera also runs the fantasy-like MSG Resort on its Sirsa premises; on its website, room rates run as high as Rs 1.25 lakh per night.
An NDTV investigation into the funding of these ventures found a mystery money trail of close to Rs 51 crore, routed through at least 15 "ghost" companies. We came across one direct instance where Rs 1.33 crore of funds had been diverted from the books of the charity to one of the many for-profit firms run by Dera acolytes.
At the heart of a complex financial web lie three companies, Hakkikat Entertainment Pvt Ltd, ARZ Unique Enterprises and Samag Enterprises, all linked through a web of similar directorships, shareholdings and addresses.
Hakkikat, one of whose directors is Gulabu Mal, also on the Shah Satnamji Research & Development Foundation trust, a Dera Sacha Sauda affiliated trust - produced Ram Rahim's music videos, and his five movies. But that was only in 2014. For the first three years since its incorporation (in 2009), it posted losses, its filings to government regulator shows.
For the next three years however, the loss-making company received a flood of cash, Rs 19 crore in all, all from questionable sources.
Rs 9 crore came from the two linked companies mentioned above - ARZ Unique Enterprises, and Samag Enterprises, more on which later.
Hakkikat also traded a mystery good, selling Rs 11 crore of this product in 2012-2013.
It also received Rs 5 crore capital from a clutch of shareholders of unclear antecedents.
A good chunk of these funds - Rs 11.24 crore - were not used for making movies, but to buy land. A year later the land was sold for Rs 11.30 crore.
In 2014, Hakikat made its first movie, Baba Ram Rahim's by now famous 'Messenger of God-1'. It's finances, too, appear confusing.
Contrary to claims by the Dera's PR team that the movie made hundreds of crores, Hakkikat's balance sheet shows the film posted a loss of Rs 15 crore. The film, filings show cost the company Rs 40 crore, while rights were sold for only Rs 25 crore.
The company appears to have partially offset the loss by again selling a mystery "product", but this time unlike previous years the goods were sold for a whopping 70 per cent profit margin, buying the product for Rs 7.53 crore, and selling it for Rs 17.26 crore. This, compared to the minuscule 3 per cent profit the same product earned just a year ago.
To seek answers, we visited the offices of Hakkikat, based on the third floor of a 'Naam Charcha Ghar' (Dera Sacha Sauda prayerhouse) in the narrow lanes of Shahadra, Delhi.
But no representative of the company could be found. When asked, the guard of the prayer house said, "A chartered accountant (CA) sometimes sits here and he takes care of what needs to be done with the company. We don't know much, he locks it and they opens it himself."
Across town from Hakkikat's offices are the offices of ARZ Unique Enterprises, which owns Baba Ram Rahim's other for-profit venture, the MSG Resort in Sirsa. It shares that address with Samag Enterprises, the firm that brings out the Dera's mouthpiece 'Sach Kahoon'.
On its books, Samag is shown to have received a loan of Rs 1.33 crore from Dera Sacha Sauda, the parent charitable trust, constituting the one piece of direct evidence that the charity may be funding the Baba's for-profit activities. Samag shows that money as being used to purchase land. Section 12(A) in the Income Tax Act prohibits any trust from investing in a private corporation.
Curiously, Samag - like ARZ - also shows itself as the owner of the MSG Resort.
ARZ, whose directors are Rakesh Kumar Insan, Dimple Chaudhary and Manish Bansal too has received in a short span of time a influx of cash - Rs 32 crore - again from dubious sources.
This included Rs 18 crore from 174 shareholders. When NDTV investigated the names and addresses of the top 10 shareholders, we found most had just given as address Dera Sacha Sauda.
A specific address in Chandigarh of a shareholder, Manish Bansal, who is shown to have invested Rs 52 lakh turned out to be fake. The neighbours denied ever hearing the name of the individual.
We paid a visit to another investor, Jagsir Singh from a small village called Sekhu near Bhatinda, Punjab, shown to have invested Rs 43.5 lakh according. At the location, NDTV was told by villagers that Jagsir was the chief 'Dera Premi' or devotee of the village and that he has been missing since the violence in Sirsa on August 25. They showed us Jasgir's humble household, in stark contrast to the substantial investment in the company.
ARZ also received Rs 18 crore in mystery loans, attributed vaguely to 'loans repayable on demand' and Inter Corporate Borrowings.
In 2012, Rs 15 crore of this money was used by ARZ to develop a hotel in Sirsa, and turn it into the MSG Resort.
The official address of ARZ Unique/Samag in Delhi's Paschim Vihar is the same as 14 other companies that are linked to Gurmit Ram Rahim.
When NDTV reached the address, seeking answers to multiple questions on the source of funds, we found another closed door. When asked, the neighbours told us, "Sometimes people come only to collect magazines and newspapers, nothing else."