The ED's searches against Mahadev promoters have found hawala links and unaccounted cash
A Rs 200-crore wedding in the UAE this February, paid for entirely in cash, brought the Mahadev Online Book app on the crosshairs of probe agencies. The app made headlines this afternoon when popular actor Ranbir Kapoor, who has appeared in ads for the app, was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate for questioning on Friday.
Sourabh Chandrakar, one of the promoters of the online betting platform, married in Ras Al-Khaimah in February. Private jets were hired to fly down family members, celebrities performed in the wedding functions and a Mumbai-based events firm handled the extravaganza. All of this was paid for in cash, and this alerted ED.
"In February 2023, Sourabh Chandrakar got married at RAK, UAE, and for this marriage ceremony, the promoters of Mahadev APP spent around Rs 200 Crore in Cash," the ED said in a statement dated September 15.
The agency said that as per digital evidence, Rs 112 crore was delivered via hawala transactions to the event management firm and hotel bookings costing Rs 42 crore were made in cash in UAE currency.
The ED's searches on the premises of people associated with the event management firm revealed evidence of hawala transactions and unaccounted cash, the agency said. "It is found that many celebrities have been endorsing these betting entities and performing at their functions in return for hefty fees layered through dubious transactions, but ultimately paid from the proceeds of online betting," the statement added.
Searches were also conducted on the premises of the travel agency that booked tickets for the Mahadev app promoters, their family members and for celebrities endorsing the websites on the platform.
M/s Rapid Travels is run by Dheeraj Ahuja and Vishal Ahuja. "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 & international tickets," the ED said.
The agency said it had also identified other major players involved in the alleged money laundering operations of Mahadev Online Book app.
The ED probe has found that Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal are the main promoters of the app. They are from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, and are running their operations from Dubai.
"Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal have created an empire for themselves in the UAE. The sudden and illegal riches are being openly flaunted by them," the ED statement said.
"Large scale hawala operations are done to siphon off the proceeds of betting to offshore 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," it alleged.
The ED has so far conducted searches at 39 locations and seized illegal assets worth Rs 417 crore, the central agency said.