Dec 9, 2016

Exposed: How spiritual leaders are laundering hawala, secretive money during demonetisation

India Today's special investigation team found several holy men and women rampantly black-marketing illicit wealth for hefty commissions.

Syed Masroor Hasan, Md Hizbullah, Kumar Ashish, Posted by Nivedita Dash
India Today
December 2, 2016

In a rare spotlight on financial malpractices in religion, an India Today probe has unearthed a sordid scandal involving hawala and secretive money transfers by several spiritual leaders and priests of popular centres of faith.
As part of its series of stories exposing cash mafias in the wake of the November 8 ban on high-denomination currency, India Today's special investigation team found several holy men and women rampantly black-marketing illicit wealth for hefty commissions.
At the Vaishno temple in Ghaziabad near Delhi, its revered head Radha Mata quickly activated hawala operators when the undercover reporters approached her for the swap of fictitious unaccounted money.

Radha Mata, who draws the faithful from as far as southern India, offered exchange of the outlawed notes from banks at half their original value of Rs 2.5 crore.
"Son, that bank person will take 50 percent (commission) and will provide all services at your doorstep," she told India Today's reporter, who was posing as a holder of black money. "He'll give you new notes. You can also take a cheque."
Her shady network appeared to be transnational as she also suggested payments through international hawala channels.
"You'll get dollars wherever you want," claimed Radha Mata.
"Can they give the money to me in Dubai?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," she replied. "Take it in Dubai, Canada or England."
In no time, Radha Mata called in a broker, who arrived in a UP government car.
Surendra Sharma, the hawala middleman, proposed to transfer the cash in Dubai at a premium price of Rs 125 per dollar.
Secret remittances of corrupt wealth by spiritual gurus like Radha Mata was just one side of the story.
India Today's investigation also dredged up the other  -- sacred shrines short-changing invalid currency.
In the ancient temple town of Mathura, several religious officials were found to be replacing scrapped banknotes clandestinely for huge cuts.
Anirudh, a priest of the Vrindavan Bihari temple, readily agreed to manipulate accounts to show black money as donation in back date. "It doesn't matter even if you give black money to us. I'll show it in accounts and it will be deposited," he said.
He then introduced India Today's reporters with Ram Guru, the chief of the temple trust, for a firm deal.
Ram Guru quoted a 35 percent commission for the conversion, saying he could pay up to 25 lakh rupees in legal notes immediately for Rs 1 crore in black. "You'll get Rs 65 for every 100," he said.
But rates for bartering the tax loot varied from temple to temple, India Today's investigation found.
After a bargain, Sudha Bhardwaj, the head of Delhi's Sidh Peeth Kalka shrine, guaranteed up to 50 percent in legal tender.
"We'll pay you 40 percent back and the 60 percent will go into our trust," she said before settling down at a 50/50 share. "You'll get all new notes," Bhardwaj added.
Next, India Today's special crews met a member of the Sai temple near Noida's Atta market, who demanded 40 percent for the interchange.
"We'll initially deal in Rs 5-10 lakh," said Manoj Paudwal, the temple member. "We have a month's time. We'll do whatever can be done in this period."
Paudwal promised the exchange in new banknotes. "Brother, it will cost you 40 percent," he said.

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