Bengaluru: Eighteen months after the I Monetary Advisory (IMA) ponzi scheme went bust, the CBI arrested former Karnataka Minister R. Roshan Baig on Sunday (November 22). He had been interrogated by the agency last year after the company’s MD and the chief kingpin Mohammed Mansoor Khan fled Bengaluru and was later traced in Dubai on June 9. He had been remanded to judicial custody in the Central Jail at Parappana Agrahara in the outskirts of the city since August 28 after he was persuaded by the Enforcement Directorate sleuths to help the agency in investigations.
The CBI while taking Baig into custody stated that it had found material evidence to connect him with the IMA as a promoter of the company which collapsed after dispossessing virtually thousands of investors and depositors of nearly Rs. 4,000 crore. Mansoor Khan while fleeing the country had alleged that Baig, then MLA from Shivajinagar under Bangalore Cantonment area, had arm-twisted and taken Rs. 400 crore from him and was refusing to return the money. The allegation was made in an audio clip that went viral after he disappeared. Since then Baig was on the CBI radar and nexus between him and the ponzi company were being scrutinized minutely. While there huge evidence of Baig being seen in company with Mansoor Khan in Iftar parties, Mushairas and his newspaper carrying IMA advertisements in ample measure, the CBI had been on trail trying to find substantial evidence to link him with the company.
Runs out of luck
Misfortune has been dogging Baig since then. He was first detained in July 2019 at the Bangalore International Airport while trying to board a chartered aircraft in which he was to leave for Pune. He had harboured deep heartburn against the Congress-JDS coalition government in the State on not finding a berth in the cabinet and began to use foul language against the Congress bigwigs for the denial of the opportunity. He resigned his seat in the Assembly in July and had hinted in ample measure that he was preparing to join the BJP and started making runs to the local temples with his son to cultivate the party. However, the BJP not only denied him entry and the ticket for the by-polls (held last December), heaped contempt on his offer to canvass for the party candidate in the constituency he had earlier represented seven times. Congress’s Mr. Rizwan Arshad was one among the two party candidates who won the by-election among the total 14 seats for which the polls were held. Viral video clips had even shown Mr. Baig supporting construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya telling “if not in India, should Ram Mandir be built in Pakistan?”
Prominent Muslim face
Baig has been the most prominent Muslim leader on the Karnataka’s political firmament for the last 35 years. He was first elected to the Karnataka Assembly in 1985 on the ticket of Janata Party (which later rechristened as Janata Dal). He later moved to the Indian National Congress and won from Shivajinagar for five consecutive times. He is one of the office-bearers of the Al-Ameen Education Society that runs several educational institutions in the State and is a trustee of the Daily Salar, an Urdu daily. Besides, he himself ran an Urdu daily for over a decade. The denial of the entry and ticket by the BJP had come as a rude blow to his reputation. He had however been seen frequently rushing to the BJP leaders with bouquets of flowers on their birth anniversaries. But the dame luck refused to smile at him. He completely ran out of luck on Sunday when the CBI took him into the custody.
Baig’s arrest is the most notable event in the multi-crore IMA scam which left thousands of depositors—most of whom considered themselves investors—in the fraudulently promoted financial scheme which promised unrealistic dividends up to 9 per cent a month.
Mansoor Khan, the MD and Chairman, had floated several companies that were into publishing, healthcare, construction, trading in gold and jewellery (they had two dazzling gold ornaments showrooms in the city). He was frequently seen in company of Mr. Baig, Mr. Zameer Ahmed, MLA representing Chamrajpet in the city and several moulvis from leading madrassas. Some moulvis had even issued promotional fatwas certifying IMA to be a Halal (religiously permissible) investment company. Some Urdu dailies in Bengaluru had even carried paid news splashing pictures of Baig, Mansoor Khan and Zameer Ahmed in Mushairas, Iftaars and other religious and cultural ceremonies. The IMA publishing company was even distributing free copies of the Holy Quran and had even financed a computer lab at the Darul Uloom in Deoband. It completely rebuilt the edifice and revamped educational system at a Government school in Shivajinagar where Baig had his secondary education. The company built some pedestrian over bridges in the city on main traffic thoroughfares.
Unrest among depositors
The investors (or depositors) became restive when dividends began tapering and dried up finally by March 2019. The Ramazan month that heralded on May 25, 2019 was a somber period for several thousands of Muslims who had invested their savings into the IMA as dividends had ceased to figure on their bank passbooks. The company directors tried to rebut the charges of fraud by terming it as a lull in profit and had attributed it to temporary fluctuations in the gold market. With the breaking of the news of Mansoor Khan’s disappearance, the offices of the company were mobbed by thousands of burqa-clad women who demanded arrest of politicians behind the scam. Police had difficult time controlling the restive crowd.
Suicide and suspensions
The investigations into the IMA Scam has so far led to suicide by a senior IAS office (B. M. Vijayashankar) who was charged with bribery in the IMA scam in exchange for a clean chit to the company in an internal probe. Only last month (October 2020), the Karnataka Government ordered prosecution of two senior IPS officer (Hemanth Nimbalkar and Ajay Hilori) and suspension of a DSP, an Inspector and a sub-inspector of police.
Meanwhile, the special officer and competent authority (IMA and other scam cases) Mr. Harsh Gupta has issued statement asking the depositors to file their claims between November 26 and December 25, 2020. A Special IMA court has been set up for a speedy trial of the cases. On October 29, the Karnataka High Court granted bail to Mansoor Khan in a money-laundering case but will stay in the custody in several other cases he is facing in the courts. Mansoor Khan had been brought back to India from Dubai on August 28 last year.
M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country