The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has seized a large number of excavators, allegedly used in unauthorised sand mining in Tamil Nadu, and has also frozen the bank accounts of sand lifting contractors.
This action is part of an month-long investigation in the state.
Over 200 Kobelco excavators have been seized in a case related to illegal sand mining, The Hindu reported citing ED sources.
The illegal sand mining is believed to have caused significant revenue losses to both Central and State governments, especially in terms of GST.
The investigators have also frozen the bank accounts of companies engaged in river sand mining over the last two years.
Investigators also took steps to freeze company bank accounts of sand lifting contractors who were involved in mining river sand over the past two years.
This comes after the agency's investigation took a backseat after arrest of the ED officer Ankit Tiwari by Tamil Nadu's Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) in December last year.
The DVAC arrested Tiwari,accusing him of being caught “red-handed" accepting a bribe of Rs 20 lakh from a doctor in Dindigul district.
The ED promptly wrote to the state director general of police, urging him to register an FIR against state vigilance officials for alleged trespass on its premises.
The ED claimed that 35 individuals unlawfully entered its Madurai office on 1 December without proper search warrants, taking away sensitive case files.
Following Tiwari's arrest, ED also moved its probe against its own officer and officials from the state's vigilance and anti-corruption department (DVAC) to its New Delhi headquarters.
The latest ED action follows the agency's 12 September 2023, raids at various sand mining and stockyard locations, as part of a money laundering probe.
During the searches, the ED reportedly unearthed incriminating documents, including fake bills and counterfeit QR codes, which also pointed to GST losses to the Central and State governments.
The raids also extended to the homes and offices of several individuals, including S Ramachandran, K Rathinam, P Karikalan, auditor P Shanmugaraj, and officials from the State's Water Resources Engineering Department.
The ED said in a statement that it had provisionally attached assets valued at Rs 130.60 crore, including movable assets amounting to Rs 128.34 crore consisting of 209 sand excavators employed in illicit sand mining.
Additionally, Rs 2.25 crore in funds spread across 35 bank accounts associated with Shanmugam Ramachandran, Karuppaiah Rethinam, Pannerselvam Karikalan, and others involved in the illegal sand mining were also attached under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.
After help from the National Remote Sensing Centre, ISRO, and IIT-Kanpur for a technical study, the ED informed the Madras High Court that the total value of illegally mined sand over the past year or two could be about Rs 4,730 crore, in contrast to the Rs 36.45 crore shown on record.
Data from the attached excavators, which are equipped with devices to record operational duration, location, and fuel usage, could be key in determining the extent of sand mined.
Investigators are also attempting to retrieve CCTV and computer entry data suspected to have been deleted from storage devices seized during the searches.
Kuldeep is Senior Editor (Newsroom) at Swarajya. He tweets at @kaydnegi.
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