Mumbai: Spot a flamboyant four-wheeler on the streets of Pune and there is a good chance that its number plate will read “0088”. That imported car is likely to be part of the fleet of businessman Avinash Bhosale, who has earned the moniker — “Pune’s king of good times”.
Bhosale, chairman of the ABIL (Avinash Bhosale Infrastructure Limited) Group, has come a long way from owning a sole autorickshaw about four decades ago. He now counts a chopper among his prized possessions. His group now has a string of investments in real estate, infrastructure development and hospitality.
Avinash Bhosale’s rags-to-riches story hit a bump Thursday with the CBI arresting him in connection with a case of alleged corruption involving Dewan Housing Finance Limited (DHFL) and Yes Bank.
According to the CBI, which has been probing the case since 2020, Yes Bank — then headed by Rana Kapoor — sanctioned loans to DHFL in 2020 allegedly in exchange for kickbacks.
DHFL promoters, the Wadhawans, allegedly siphoned off the funds, routing them through developers in Mumbai and Pune before ultimately defaulting on the loan payments owed to Yes Bank.
“Bhosale’s involvement was found in the diversion of funds to the Radius Group. He was arrested and will be produced in court Friday,” a source from the CBI told ThePrint. The CBI had arrested builder Sanjay Chhabria of Mumbai-based Radius Developers in connection with the case last month.
According to CBI sources, part of the money disbursed to DHFL by Yes Bank was parked with ABIL and Radius Group and was then routed back to DHFL through a web of shell companies. There is no direct connection between ABIL and Radius group, but both are connected to DHFL, the sources said.
As part of its probe into DHFL’s financials, the CBI also conducted raids at several locations linked to Avinash Bhosale and other developers in Mumbai and Pune in April this year.
Bhosale and his son were also questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year. The agency had initially attached assets worth Rs 40.34 crore owned by him for alleged violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) before attaching more assets worth Rs 4 crore owned by him under relevant provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Known to be friends with politicians of all hues, he is father-in-law to Maharashtra Minister of State (MoS) Vishwajeet Kadam, who is with the Congress. “With Bhosale’s son-in-law being a Congress minister, his arrest has sparked some concern within the party,” said a Pune-based Congress leader.
In the past, Bhosale’s name has cropped up in the Adarsh scam, alongside that of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar.
There is also the story of the loan Bhosale took from the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, and how the Pune-based businessman has hosted the Thackeray family at his bungalow in Mahabaleshwar on more than one occasion.
In 2007, he was arrested by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) upon his return from London for alleged evasion of custom duty to the tune of Rs 50 lakh, but was later granted bail by a night magistrate.
Here’s a glimpse into Bhosale’s meteoric rise and the influence he wields among the state’s power elite.
ABIL & political connections
By his own admission, Bhosale’s political networks flourished when BJP’s Anil Shirole introduced him to party stalwart Gopinath Munde.
Munde gave him a loan for his business, which he later repaid with interest, Bhosale told a local Marathi developers’ body during a felicitation programme in 2011.
“He was very close to (Gopinath) Munde and it is said that Munde was the one who introduced Bhosale to the world of government contracts. In the political corridors, there are tales about how Bhosale used to drive Balasaheb Thackeray around when the Shiv Sena founder would come to Pune,” a Pune-based Congress leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Two decades after he launched the ABIL Group in 1979, Bhosale landed several government contracts, especially in the irrigation sector, after the Shiv Sena-BJP government came to power in 1995 with Manohar Joshi as the chief minister.
Some irrigation contracts awarded to ABIL made the headlines in 2012 over allegations of contractors being given ‘kickbacks’ in the form of advance payments, when the Congress-NCP was in office and Ajit Pawar handled the irrigation portfolio. The NCP had at the time denied allegations of cronyism.
Among the contracts ABIL has received from the state and Centre include those for parts of the Mumbai-Pune expressway and a patch between Bangalore and Hosur. The group has also worked on parts of metro projects in Kochi and Bengaluru, apart from Koyna and Purna dam projects, according to ABIL’s official website.
In 2009, Bhosale hosted Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and son Uddhav, at his Four Oaks bungalow in Mahabaleshwar, for a brief vacation. In 2017, Uddhav Thackeray’s weekend stay at Four Oaks made the news after the state environment department — then headed by Shiv Sena’s Ramdas Kadam — initiated action against a resort next to Bhosale’s home for alleged noise pollution.
Bhosale’s ties with NCP’s Ajit Pawar, who is now Deputy CM, also came to light when his name featured in the Adarsh Housing Society scam. Located in Mumbai’s Colaba, the Adarsh Housing Society is a plush 31-storey apartment complex built for war heroes and widows of martyrs of the 1999 Kargil war, but flats in the complex allegedly ended up going to bureaucrats and relatives of politicians.
A PIL (public interest litigation) filed in the case alleged that the address of Ajit Pawar’s wife, Sunetra Pawar, was the same as that of Bhosale’s father, Nivrutti Bhosale, who was also a beneficiary of the Adarsh Housing Society scheme. Bhosale later clarified that his family had sold their Pune bungalow, Jijai, to the Pawars.
The man, the myth
The developer, known to stay away from media glare, had spoken at length about his rags-to-riches story during an event in 2011.
Bhosale said that his failure to clear Class 12 prompted him to leave his home at Sangamner in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district and travel to Pune in search of fortune. Once in Pune, he bought an autorickshaw on a loan, and rented it out to drivers.
Soon after, he was able to buy two more autorickshaws and eventually went on to build enough capital to enter the real estate space, inspired by a developer he knew.
Today, Avinash Bhosale’s ABIL Group has to its credit the development of more than 7.8 million square feet of residential and commercial property in Pune alone. It has also helped develop several upscale hotels such as Mumbai’s St. Regis, W Goa in Vagator and Nagpur’s Le Meridien. In 2018, the group purchased an entire commercial building in London’s Trafalgar Square for Rs 900 crore.
“Avinash Bhosale and his wife are both polite to speak to, especially with people who know him. He frequently takes his friends to his bungalow in Mahabaleshwar, and is known to throw parties for his friends’ birthdays in Goa,” said a Pune-based developer, who did not wish to be named.
However, despite the extent of his real estate business in Pune, Bhosale is “normally not involved much in real-estate umbrella organisations such as CREDAI (the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India),” the developer added.
Bhosale, who has a sprawling residence in Pune’s Baner, complete with a helipad, lives an opulent life. In 2006, he hosted a party for Hollywood actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when they were in Pune for the shooting of A Mighty Heart.
With inputs from Ananya Bhardwaj
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)