Mahadev betting app case gets political ahead of Chhattisgarh polls

The Mahadev app, developed by Hyderabad-based software developers, is a high-profile scandal involving an online betting platform that enabled illegal gambling on various games, such as poker, card games, badminton, tennis, football and cricket

Hyderabad: The Mahadev online betting app case is back in the spotlight as BJP intensified it attack on Congress in Chhattisgarh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel was paid ₹508 crore by promoters of the Mahadev betting app. Congress called it a ploy to tarnish the state government ahead of Assembly polls.

The controversy broke late on Friday after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said that an email statement from a suspect in the alleged Mahadev betting app scam revealed that promoters of the operation paid bribes worth ₹508 crore to Baghel. The statement came after ₹5.39 crore cash was seized by them on Thursday from a hotel in Raipur, which was allegedly being sent to Congress.

PM’s attack on Chhattisgarh Congress

The Mahadev app, developed by Hyderabad-based software developers, was run by Dubai-based Saurabh Chandrakar. He used to be a juice seller. Along with his accomplice Ravi Uppal, the prime suspect ran the online betting platform that enabled illegal gambling on various games, such as poker, card games, badminton, tennis, football and cricket.

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The PM said that, reports are in the media that the money was linked to the chief minister. “The Congress government and the chief minister should tell the people of Chhattisgarh what link they have with the accused in this scam sitting in Dubai,” Modi added.

Rs 200-cr wedding

The case came to light during Chandrakar’s lavish February wedding in Ras Al-Khaimah, UAE, where he reportedly spent over Rs 200 crore. The ED has since summoned approximately 16 celebrities, including actors and singers, who performed at the wedding, suspecting that they were paid through hawala channels.

Celebs under scanner

Several A-list Bollywood celebrities were summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) this week for their alleged association with the Mahadev illegal betting app and its controversial promoters. The celebrities including Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Kapil Sharma, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Huma Qureshi are being questioned for allegedly promoting the app.

The ED’s probe alleges that the Mahadev Online Book App, headquartered in the UAE, served as a platform for illegal betting, spanning activities from election outcomes to card games and cricket matches.

Money, according to the ED, flowed from the app’s owners to hawala operators in Chhattisgarh, with trails leading to influential bureaucrats and politicians within the state. The agency has focused its investigation on two key figures: Sourabh Chandrakar, 28, and Ravi Uppal, 43, both residents of Bhilai and believed to be evading authorities in Dubai.

The begining

The Mahadev app’s origins traces back to around 2017, when Uppal and Chandrakar met at a paan stall, where they bonded over tea and cricket scores. Earlier this year, Chhattisgarh Police issued a lookout notice for the duo, while the ED moved to issue a red-corner notice against them.

The agency’s crackdown on the betting app began around 2018, culminating in the arrest of four individuals from Raipur in August this year. However, Chandrakar and Uppal evaded the agency and are believed to be residing in Dubai.

Chandrakar, formerly a salesman at a Bhilai garment store earning Rs 10,000 monthly, later established a ‘juice factory’ in Nehru Nagar. Meanwhile, Uppal, hailing from an upper middle-class Bhilai family, took up borewell contracts and an oil-related business before his involvement in betting lasted for over a decade.

The bookie network

Uppal’s cricket bookies network extended across states, from Madhya Pradesh’s Katni to Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur, Raipur, Bhatapara, and Dhamtari. His regular visits to Bhilai allowed him to reconnect with local punters and introduce Chandrakar to his network, a crucial step in recruiting for the app.

In 2017, the duo commenced work on the online app. Initially, they sought guidance from the creators of a Hyderabad-based app before enlisting software engineers to establish their platform. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chandrakar and Uppal had already begun their operations in Dubai.

While Chandrakar and Uppal managed operations from Dubai, a local figure, Raja Gupta, alias Raj, became the face of the Mahadev app in Bhilai. A school dropout, Raj transitioned from a modest monthly salary to a flamboyant lifestyle.

Training in Dubai

Raj’s alleged task was to recruit youngsters from Chhattisgarh and transport them to Dubai, where they would sell customer login IDs to operators. “While the lion’s share of profits went to the app owners, individuals like Raj received a portion, roughly 20 percent,” media reports quoted ED sources saying.

A significant number of these young recruits, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand, were sent to Dubai for training. Some stayed on, while others returned to India to manage operations domestically, the reports said.

One such individual, a 29-year-old from Bhilai, shared his experience of working in Dubai, where he handled money deposits and reported the existence of 250 branches controlling the app, each generating substantial weekly earnings.

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