Delhi court sends NRI businessman Thampi to jail in PMLA case

Delhi court sends NRI businessman Thampi to jail in PMLA case
NRI businessman CC Thampi

New Delhi: A Delhi court on Tuesday sent NRI businessman CC Thampi to judicial custody in a money laundering probe related to a case against Robert Vadra for acquisition of alleged illegal assets abroad.

Special CBI Judge Arvind Kumar sent Thampi, arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the case, to jail till February 7 while rejecting the probe agency's request for his further custodial interrogation in the case involving Vadra, son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

The case relates to allegations of money laundering in the purchase of a London-based property -- located at 12, Bryanston Square -- worth 1.9 million pounds, which is allegedly owned by Vadra.

The court also reserved for Wednesday the order on his bail application, which said that Thampi was not required for further interrogation and no purpose will be served by keeping him in custody.

The application was opposed by ED's advocate Amit Mahajan and N K Matta, who said that the probe was at initial stage and if released, he may hamper the ongoing investigation.

The agency, also represented by advocate Atul Tripathi, told the court that the pre-arrest bail of the co-accused -- Vadra and his close aide Manoj Arora -- has been challenged.

Another co-accused, Sanjay Bhandari, is absconding and red corner notice (RCN) has been issued against him, the agency further submitted.

Vadra is alleged to have acquired this London-based asset, and few purported emails between him and Bhandari regarding renovation of the London flat are part of the evidence in the case.

Thampi was arrested by the ED on January 18 under the provision of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after he was summoned in the case.

The ED claimed that Thampi met Vadra through an aide of his mother-in-law, while the latter reportedly told the probe agency that he only met him on board an Emirates flight some years ago.

Thampi, during his earlier grilling session with the ED, claimed that Vadra had stayed at the Bryanston Square property in London. Vadra, in his statement made to the agency, denied the claim.

ED said Thampi's arrest and subsequent custodial grilling will unravel the "missing links" in the case where the ED has charged Vadra with acquiring illegal assets abroad in coordination with Bhandari.

Thampi has been charged by the agency in the past in alleged illegal hawala dealings and land purchase case in the country in 2017 in alleged contravention of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).

It had also issued a FEMA show cause notice to Thampi for alleged violation of foreign exchange laws to the tune of over Rs 1,000 crore in the purchase of vast tracts of land in Kerala.

The firms that are being investigated by the ED, as part of the two FEMA show cause notices issued against him, include Holiday City Centre Private Limited, Holiday Properties Private Limited and Holiday Bekal Resorts Private Limited.

The ED said Thampi is also under the scanner for his reported dealings with some politicians and bureaucrats.

The agency earlier told a court that it had received information about various new properties in London which belong to Vadra. These include two houses -- one worth 5 million GBP and the other valued at 4 million GBP, six other flats and more properties.

Vadra has consistently denied these charges and has said he will cooperate in the probe.

He has also said that he was being "hounded and harassed" to subserve political ends.

CBI probe in 2009

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) first investigated Thampi in 2009, alleging issues in the establishment of Thejas Engineering College in Thrissur. Another college under Thampi's chairmanship was also brought under CBI scanner.

It is alleged that despite having limited facilities and poorly constructed buildings, the college permit was acquired through a fake affidavit. All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) South West Region Director was arrested during the probe for accepting a huge bribe from Thampi.

However, Thampi was let off at the time due to lack of evidence. The case was opened again in 2017.

The rags-to-riches story of Thampi

Starting off by doing odd jobs after moving to the Middle East in the 1980s, arrested NRI businessman CC Thampi's story is a typical rags-to-riches one.

Hailing from Thrissur district in Kerala, Thampi's life changed for the better after he landed up in the Middle East in the eighties.

Starting off by doing odd jobs, he then set up his own business. After almost a quarter of a century operating from his business base in the UAE's Ajman, he now owns a string of businesses across various sectors and in multiple locations both in and outside the Gulf country ranging from educational institutions, resorts, distilleries and real estate. Though he began his career in liquor trading, he later diversified into the restaurant business. He also operated bars in several high-end hotels.

Though many in his home town Thrissur are yet to figure out his meteoric rise in business, it is pertinent to mention here that his upward mobility gained momentum after he reportedly became close to Congress veteran K Karunakaran, whose relations with Thrissur are too well known.

After gaining the confidence of Karunakaran, who for close to two decades from the eighties onwards was the byword in Congress politics in Kerala and nationally too for a brief while, Thampi had no reason to look back.

He was a special invitee of the Kerala government in the 2018 Loka Kerala Sabha, an event hosted by the government of Kerala to bring Keralites living around the globe under one platform.

(With PTI and IANS inputs)

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