Yet another case has emerged under the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (in Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 (MPID Act), with a Punebased couple accusing Mumbaibased realty developers Gautam and Jagdish Ahuja of defrauding them of over Rs 2 crore.
Taking cognisance of the private complaint filed by Haresh and Mehak Setpal, the Pune sessions court ordered that two separate FIRs be lodged against Ahuja Properties and Associates, and its partners.
The Pune-based couple are realtors themselves, running a company Setpal Properties Pvt Ltd and had been friends with the Ahujas as peers. According to the complaint filed by the Setpals, in January 2010, the Ahujas had invoked their friendship to seek funds from them. The Mumbai realtor claimed to have floated a deposit/investment scheme for close friends and family for a short three-month term, promising to pay interest in advance. The money, it was stated, was being raised to fund multiple projects the Ahujas had taken up in Mumbai.
Haresh Setpal invested Rs 1crore, while his wife Mehak Setpal invested another Rs 50 lakh, in February that year. At the end of the three-month period in April, Haresh Setpal sought his money — Rs 1.05 lakh — back. However, the Ahujas returned Rs 5 lakh and coaxed Setpal to renew his deposit for the remaining Rs 1crore. Later, the Ahujas kept pushing the Setpals to renew their deposits until April 2016.
The complainant, subsequently, found himself incessantly chasing the return of the principal amount and also the interest, between April 2016 and October 2019. Finally in November 2019, the accused issued cheques, which bounced on account of insufficient funds. Mehak Setpal had also not got her money back. Frustrated, the couple filed a private criminal complaint with the sessions court, seeking action against Ahuja Properties and its partners. Advocates Monish Jain, Pournima Mitkari and Gaurav Nashikkar are representing the couple.
Jain pointed out, “It is a modus operandi of certain crooked builders of collecting money from depositors under false pretext with no intention of returning the money, which are then transferred to shell companies and untraceable accounts. Over athousand cases are pending against Ahuja Properties in courts of law. In our estimation, the scam will be in the proportion of over Rs 1,000 crore and the amount is likely to rise once the investigation takes its logical course. So the sessions court judge has passed an order for the registration of the FIRs, to protect the interest of depositors. Given the scale of the crime, the investigation should be transferred to the Economic Offences Wing (EOW), so the money trail can be followed speedily and traced.”
Touching on the multiple civil suits pending against the Ahujas in Mumbai, Nashikkar added, “There is a misconception that pendency of civil suits and complaints under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act debars lodging of FIR for cheating. But the Supreme Court, in Dr Lakshan vs State of Karnataka, has clarified that such an FIR is tenable and runs parallel and can be pursued and continued simultaneously.”
Besides filing the two FIRs, the sessions court has directed the Kondhwa police to investigate the matter under sections 420 (cheating), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by a public servant, merchant or agent) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of MPID Act.
Sardar Patil, senior police inspector at Kondhwa police station, said, “We need to seek legal opinion before lodging the FIRs. Since the fraud amount is over Rs 2 crore, the investigation will be done by EOW.”
Gautam and Jagdish Ahuja did not respond to calls and messages, seeking comment..