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Cobrapost stings realtors

Investigative web portal Cobrapost.com on Thursday claimed that it had exposed how real estate companies across the country offer to launder black money.

In a press conference held at the capital’s press club, minutes from the Parliament house, where the opposition is busy embarrassing the government for not keeping its promise of getting the black money back, Aniruddha Bahal, chief of the portal unveiled an abridged documentary titled Operation Black Ninja.

In an abridged version screened for the journalists, executives of some 35 realty firms lined up one after another offering to take between 10% to 90% of the unit price of properties in ‘cash’ or ‘B component’ or simply ‘Black’.

Among the 35 names, one was a listed company while another had an approval from the market regulator to list. The portal’s reporter took an alias of Mohmmad Hizbullah and pretended to be working for a fictitious South Indian politician.

In footage shot over 18 months, he offered to buy dozens of flats from various builders often gaining interviews with the CEO or promoters of the firms.

“Promising to do bulk property transactions ranging from 10% to 90% in black money are two real estate company CMDs, 10 managing directors, 15 directors and executive directors, three CEOs and COOs, a president and a vice-president, two AVPs, four heads of marketing and sales, three general managers, three assistant general managers and many other senior employees,” the press release by Cobrapost said.

The video footage showed one employee even offers to take Rs. 100 crore in black and convert it to white with help from non-banking finance companies in a clear violation of Income Tax laws, Foreign Exchange Management Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act and others.

Senior executives were shown saying that accepting payments in black was nothing new for them and that it was an accepted norm of the real estate industry. “Some of these real estate officials are caught on camera ready to accept black money abroad via hawala. All this endorses the fact that rampant use of black money is a well-known reality of the realty sector in India,” Bahal said.

The combined turnover of these companies-spread across Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka-would run into thousands of crores.

What Operation Black Ninja found:

They agreed to accept black money ranging from 10 to 90% of the unit price.

Many of them agreed to collect cash from cities other than their operational bases, even from countries such as Dubai via hawala. Some said they do this all the time.

They would understate the sale price of the property so that the buyer can save on stamp duty.

They proposed to sell an undeveloped property even without obtaining necessary approvals for the project, a grossly illegal act.

Putting the entire black component on their table is a precondition for some developers to close a deal.

In other instances, particularly in case of a newly developed project, they would show only the book value of the said property at the time of registry, again not on par with prevailing market prices.

Some confessed to have been dealing in black money in the past and that it was nothing new for them.

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