Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir’s Anti-Corruption Bureau has accused Hilal Rather, son of former finance minister of the erstwhile state Abdul Rahim Rather, of committing bank fraud to the tune of Rs 177 crore, and diverting funds towards foreign tours, buying land assets and expensive watches, and even sponsoring the popular comedy TV programme Kapil Sharma Show.
The ACB has, as of 5 March, handed over the case to the CBI, citing international ramifications to the case. The allegations have been made in the investigation documents handed over to the CBI along with the original FIR. The documents have been accessed by ThePrint.
Hilal Rather was arrested by the ACB in January, and remains in its custody. His father —considered an influential Kashmiri politician who served as finance, agriculture, rural development, law and parliamentary affairs minister under Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah’s National Conference-led governments — is among the politicians put under house arrest ahead of the central government’s decision to scrap Article 370 in August last year.
Also read: J&K Bank — the ‘RBI of Kashmir’ — is in crisis and its customers are taking it personally
What ACB investigation found
The ACB had, in June last year, registered a financial irregularities case against officials of the J&K Bank for sanctioning a loan of Rs 74.27 crore to a partnership firm named Paradise Avenue for the purpose of setting up a residential township in Jammu’s Narwal area. It subsequently found three other loans sanctioned to the same firm between 2012 and 2017, amounting to Rs 177 crore. Rather junior was arrested by the ACB in January.
It is alleged that J&K Bank officials granted the loan to Rather and his partners under political influence, flouting all norms and the financial code of the bank. The loan had turned into a non-performing asset in 2017.
In its findings submitted to the CBI, the ACB said Rather was one of the partners in the firm, with a 33.33 per cent stake, while the rest was owned by Daljit Wadhera, Deepshikha Jamwal, Dr Rizwan Rahim Dar and Ghulam Mohammad Bhat.
“Scrutiny of the records reveal that a portion of the loan amount was diverted for the purchase of movable and immovable assets in India and abroad, paying fuel bills of Simula Software Solutions (a sister concern of Paradise Avenue), paying salaries of employees of Simula Software Solutions, buying expensive watches etc,” the ACB stated in its probe documents.
“(The) loan amount was further utilised in wasteful expenditures like foreign tours, taking of Simula cricket team to Dubai/Sharjah thrice for playing T-20 tournament, sponsoring of Kapil Sharma show etc.”
The report adds that the funds were used for “purchase of expensive gift items, other personal purposes, holidaying abroad and hosting shows of TV and film celebrities”.
The investigation, according to the ACB, has further disclosed properties, bank accounts and investments in the USA and Dubai, suspected to be part of diversion of funds and deployment of unaccounted cash.
“Investigation conducted till date also reveals that properties are spread out abroad and other parts of (the) country too,” it states, adding that the possibility of stashing funds and diversion of funds to “subversive elements” cannot be ruled out.
The CBI has now booked the management of J&K Bank as well as the beneficiary firm.
Family members of Hilal Rather describe the case against him as “political vendetta”.
“The ACB had been investigating the matter for eight months and yet they failed to identify so-called accused bank officials. The CBI FIR also does not name the bank officials. What was ACB doing for eight months?” said a family member who did not want to be named.
“Furthermore, there are five partners in the firm. Why is only Hilal being targeted? This is political vendetta,” the family member said.
“We have no properties in Dubai or USA as the ACB says. This can be easily verified. It was the firm which took the loan, not Hilal. The watches and other gifts were given out of the promotional budget of the firm, while the sponsoring of TV shows too was part of promoting the firm. Is it criminal to publicise one’s work?”
Also read: Property and land top sectors where bribery continued like before in 2018, says survey