“The investigation revealed that an amount of at least Rs 540 crore has been extorted in the past two years. Thousands of handwritten diary entries were analysed, corroborating them with evidence gathered in the form of bank account details, seized WhatsApp chats and a record of the defendant’s statements,” the ED said.
The anti-money laundering agency said it had so far questioned more than 100 people linked to the coal tax scam, confirming details of the money trail revealed by a diary seized from the main defendant in the extortion racket.
“This kind of systemic extortion was not possible without the knowledge and active participation of the state machine. The fact that it ran continuously without a single FIR and raised around Rs 500 crore in two years clearly indicates that all the accused persons were acting in a concerted manner on instruction from the highest level person(s), having command and control over the state car. The ED is investigating the full range of transactions in relation to the extortion racket,” the agency said.
The agency also said it “unveiled the modus operandi in which influential members of the extortionist syndicate like the coal trader Suryakant Tiwari, Saumya Chaurasia, Sameer Vishnoi (IAS), etc. they used their kin to create benami goods. The land deals were concluded with a minimum amount of check and a large amount of money from the collection of extortion was infused to purchase the assets. Tiwari, according to the ED’s foreclosure order, was the “chief enforcer” to extort money from coal hauliers and industrialists.
The investigation and money trail brought several senior Chhattisgarh government bureaucrats under the scanner of the ED, including the CM office, with Chaurasia’s statements recorded and verified against the evidence gathered so far.
The ED claimed to have “temporarily attached movable and immovable properties worth Rs 152.3 crore belonging to Suryakant Tiwari (65 properties), Saumya Chaurasia (21 properties), Deputy Secretary of CM of Chhattisgarh, Sameer Vishnoi, IAS (five properties) and assets of Sunil Agarwal and others.” All defendants were arrested. Properties included cash, jewelry, apartments, coal washeries, and farms.
“The ED recorded statements from about 100 people. The investigation revealed that, as part of a major conspiracy, policy changes were made and on July 15, 2020 the director (mining) issued an order to change an existing efficient online system of issuing transport permits, to introduce a manual layer where coal users were forced to apply NOC extension with state mining officers,” the agency said.
Due to this manual permit system, Tiwari and his employees were used to extort an illegal “levy” from the haulers, which was estimated by the ED at the rate of Rs 25 per ton of coal hauled. All details of the transaction were documented by the defendant.