Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Channel Promoter Under Govt Probe

News Express, the Hindi news channel that carried out what it said was a sting operation on opinion pollsters, is promoted by a group with a chequered record. Floated by the Sai Prasad Group of Pune, the channel has been relaunched with a logo in red and blue and a dual tag line — We Report to You/Fikar Aapki.

Promoted by Balasaheb Bhapkar and son Shashank Bhapkar, the Sai Prasad Group is being investigated by almost half a dozen agencies including the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA), the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the economic offences wing (EOW) of the Goa police for alleged financial irregularities, including illegal raising of funds.

The group, which has interests in real estate, infrastructure, energy, food and films, is said to have collected funds from small investors under several schemes such as monthly installment plans and one-time payment plans in violation of Sebi rules.

In July last year, market regulator Sebi banned Balasaheb K Bhapkar, Vandana B Bhapkar and Shashank B Bhapkar besides Sai Prasad Foods and Sai Prasad Properties from collecting money from the public, launching new schemes, disposing of property and diverting funds after finding them running a collective investment scheme by offering plans through joint ventures.

Sai Prasad Properties, in its submission to Sebi, revealed that there were a total 13.5 lakh customers, of which 2.34 lakh were on the onetime payment plan and 11.15 lakh on the installment plan.

Investigations into companies belonging to the group were started by the ministry of company affairs and RBI after complaints in 2011. In August 2012, the Registrar of Companies (RoC), Goa, informed the market regulator about violations of the Collective Investment Schemes Regulations under the Sebi Act.

Sai Prasad followed a hierarchy of agents involving 10 levels for the purpose of getting business, rising from field representatives to a chief controller.

The company also used to give commissions to those higher on the chain against business brought in by those lower down against the booking of plots.

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