Hot cash hunt

COVER STORY Imaging: Binesh Sreedharan

Smuggler Iqbal Mirchi’s Rs1,000 crore left India and bounced across the world before parking itself in Australia, Cyprus, New Zealand, UAE and the UK. THE WEEK accesses a dossier on the money trail

No one who cooks, cooks alone. American food and fiction writer Laurie Colwin clarified: “Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past.” Iqbal Muhammad Memon began as a cook in Mumbai’s Null Bazar. His signature dish was naan-chap, a combo of curried lamb and flatbread. He later became a spice merchant. Life amidst chillies and peppercorns gave him his spicy nickname. When he died on August 14, 2013, the headlines referred to him as Iqbal Mirchi, or, simply, Mirchi.

Mirchi led a charmed life. And, he was not cooking alone. In everything that he did, the ghosts of celebrated forerunners watched over him. Yet, Mirchi always said that he was a legal businessman operating alone. But, very few believed him. Rumours are that, after the spice business, he forayed into smuggling, as an understudy of Karim Lala and Varadarajan Mudaliar. He later set up his own team for landing smuggled goods and was first arrested in October 1982. He would later branch out into smuggling drugs, especially Mandrax.

Later, he would be called Dawood Ibrahim’s money manager. While the D-Company links were never proved, it is an accepted fact that he was well-networked within the underworld. The US tagged him as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The UN put him on its “list of top 10 drug dealers”. So, he was a smuggler and a narcotics dealer. But, was he involved with the dons? If so, how deeply? Nobody knows for sure.

He left India in the late 1980s and remained abroad. The Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 changed everything. Mirchi was accused of funding the blasts. New Delhi set sleuths on his tail. His family members saw their travel privileges being curtailed. Mirchi was traced to a posh six-bedroom house in Hornchurch, Essex, UK, and was dragged to court. But, the Indian government could not make any charge stick. Mirchi died a free man, in his own bed. A rare privilege for men who walk his road.

But, despite Mirchi’s death, controversies refuse to die. THE WEEK has a dossier prepared by the Enforcement Directorate regarding the sale of four properties at Worli, Mumbai. The deal was settled for Rs1,000 crore in 2010, the dossier says. The money was then bounced across the world through shell companies and was then invested in real estate worldwide.

During his visit to the United Arab Emirates on August 16-17, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over a dossier on Dawood Ibrahim’s properties to UAE authorities. Sources said that part of the information in the Mirchi dossier could have made it to the Dawood dossier. Reportedly, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had personally overseen the compilation of the Dawood dossier. Doval had accompanied Modi to Dubai, where the prime minister reportedly urged the authorities to seize all properties registered to Dawood, directly and through front men.

COVER STORY Graphics: Job P.K.

The 153-page Mirchi dossier has three parts—the first part of 17 pages is on the Worli property sale, the second part of two pages is on a deal in progress and the remaining pages contain the detailed evidence, listed in 31 annexures.

In the Mirchi dossier, the Worli property is described thus: “property bearing C.S. No.1, admeasuring about 5, and land bearing C.S. No.1/1 admeasuring about” and four buildings—Rabia Mansion, Marium Lodge, Sea View and Samudra Mahal. The address given is No 170, Lala Lajpat Rai Road, Worli, Mumbai.

According to the dossier, “the four buildings were purchased by Rockside Enterprises through its partners Iqbal Mirchi (now deceased) and Shamarukh Ali Mohammed from Sir Mohamed Yusuf Trust in September 1986.” Shamarukh was made a party “because of her close relations with the trustees”.

After Mirchi was declared absconder in 1993, three buildings, except Samudra Mahal, were attached under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators Act, 1976. On March 2, 1999, Mirchi appointed the trustees of Sir Mohamed Yusuf Trust as caretakers of the buildings.

On August 31, 2004, C.B. Hawelikar, then Mumbai’s chief additional metropolitan magistrate, released the buildings from forfeiture procedures. Immediately, Mirchi moved to sell the property. But, because of the complexity of the land holding and because of Mirchi’s involvement, not many buyers came forward.

Mumbai-based Joy Home Creations Ltd apparently signed a preliminary contract, but did not close the deal. Later, in 2010, the Wadhwa Group closed the deal “through Sunblink Real Estate Pvt. Ltd for the price of over Rs1,000 crore”. And, to ensure a smooth takeover, Sunblink signed a memorandum of understanding with Joy Home Creations.

Dubious deposits Dubious deposits: Bank account details of Iqbal Mirchi's wife and sons

Sunny Suresh Bathija of Bandra West and Mehul Anil Bavishi of Andheri are the current directors of Sunblink. But, informed sources say that an influential Congress politician—former Mumbai corporator and multiple-time MLA—owns or has a large stake in the company.

The ED’s dossier has red-flagged the Sunblink transaction on two counts: “with the help of Haroun Rasheed Yusuf [chairman, Sir Mohamed Yusuf Trust], Humayun Suleman Merchant [who held Mirchi’s power of attorney] showed the property to be tenanted, thereby downgrading the value of property for the purpose of payment of various duties, and also to transfer the black money value amounting to over Rs1,000 crore.”

The dossier says that Yusuf and Merchant prepared false documents and false rent receipts for a consideration. Yusuf’s cut was Rs25 crore, plus 5,000 sq.ft constructed area; Merchant charged Rs50 crore. Also named are legal firms and other individuals who “facilitated the management of illegal monies from this sale deal”.

Deal in progress

The second section of the dossier gives details on a “benaami property which stands in the name of Dr Farham Eurich Irani (fertility clinic at Prabhadevi), which by all means other than the documents, belongs to Iqbal Mirchi.” The dossier also says that Mirchi’s younger son, Junaid Memon, is “in the process of selling the property”.

The property is under dispute, as various relatives of Irani have laid claim to it. It is also under reservation by the Central government for a post office. The dossier says that “with the connivance of” Irani, Junaid formed Vantage Enterprises Ltd in Mumbai. This company is to deal with the disputed plot.

According to the dossier, the plot is “at Bandra in Danda Khata in the Registration Sub-District of Bandra, Taluka South Salsette, District Bombay Suburban being Revenue Survey No.184... admeasuring about 2,362”

Apparently, Irani sought Mirchi’s help to sort out the disputes over the property. Mirchi paid an unspecified amount to Irani, on the understanding that they will share the value of this property when the issues are resolved. The property is valued at Rs200 crore now.

In the dossier, the ED cautions that the property will be disposed at any moment “showing the value very low due to dispute/litigation, to some strong powerful builder lobby and the majority of the value will be taken in cash and transferred to Dubai through hawala route. All this being done by Junaid along with Irani.”

Secret house Secret house: Documents about the purchase of Wigham House in the UK by Mihaj Investments Corporation, a front company of the Mirchi family.

Where did the money go?

So, what happened to the Worli sale money? The ED is sure that the money was routed out of India, via Dubai. The dossier says, “The transaction amounting to over Rs1,000 crore was transferred to Dubai through hawala channels, and, then, subsequently to Europe through offshore companies, hawala and banking channels. The key beneficiaries being Hajra Iqbal Memon [Mirchi’s first wife], Junaid Iqbal Memon [Mirchi’s second son] and Asif Iqbal Memon [Mirchi’s elder son].”

Hajra, Asif and Junaid then used the money to buy properties in Dubai, the UK, Cyprus, Turkey, Spain and Morocco. Some properties are in their name, while others are owned by shell companies and in the name of Mirchi’s only daughter, Nadiya Javed Malik, who is a Pakistani.

The ED has highlighted some of the real estate deals and transactions made by the Mirchis. One of the bigger buys was in Dubai. “Midwest Apartment in Mankhool Area Plot 317-1039” was purchased in July 2010 for 93 million UAE dirhams. The property, which was bought from an Emirati, is jointly owned by Hajra, Asif and Junaid.

Then, Junaid bought 10 properties in Turkey through a shell company, Oceanic Holdings Corporation, registered in Mahe, Seychelles. The deal was executed through a power of attorney given to Fulya Cavas, a Turkish attorney. The dossier has multiple documents regarding the deal, including e-mails exchanged between realtors, lawyers and Junaid.

Two properties in the UK were bought through Mihaj Investments Corporation Ltd, registered in the United Arab Emirates. Wigham House in Essex was brought for £3.5 million and Portland House in Reading for £6.5 million. The Mirchis own 15 other buildings in the UK and two in Australia. The dossier also has details of their 13 known properties in Maharashtra.

Specially red-flagged are two financial transactions—a payment of Rs19.34 crore to Junaid on July 24, 2010, and Nadiya’s raising a loan of 1.43 million Swiss francs from the Cyprus-based Alpha Bank Ltd. The ED believes that the loan was issued “on the strength of the laundered money from the sale of the four buildings at Worli”. Also under the scanner are 15 bank accounts—five from the UK and ten from India.

The investments, overseas and in India, were not restricted to the Mirchis alone. Arshad Memon, Firoz Memon and Parveen Memon, who are identified as “key attorneys” of the Mirchis, bought two properties in New Zealand, six properties in Maharashtra and one in Goa. All, allegedly, from the returns of the Worli sale.

After properties, the dossier lists the companies formed by Hajra, Asif and Junaid “to cover up ill deals”. The list has seven companies from India, 17 from the UK, five from the UAE and seven other offshore companies. One offshore company, Country Property Ltd, is based in the British Virgin Islands, which, like the Seychelles, is a tax haven.

Hot cash hunt Property plus: Samudra Mahal; (right) Rabia Mansion | Amey Mansabdar

Is there a D-Company link?

It is the money that gave the Mirchis away. In early 2013, Indian spy agencies received inputs that Dawood Ibrahim, India’s most wanted, was expanding his financial activities in Europe to generate more funds for terror projects. The intel said Dawood was making real estate investments in Europe.

To crack down on the don’s terror-financing network, the Research and Analysis Wing activated operatives in Europe.

One spy collected vague intel on the Mirchis buying prime real estate in London. But, exact details of the property were not known. The spy kept at it and eventually tapped an asset in a municipality to track down the property in a tony London neighbourhood. The R&AW immediately shared the intel with the ED and Intelligence Bureau. Soon, the combined agencies collected details of D-Company-owned properties in around ten countries.

Desert deal Desert deal: Documents about the purchase of an expensive apartment in Dubai.

In India, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai provided generous help in tracking property investments made by the D-Company and the Mirchis. Currently, sleuths are watching property sales in posh areas like Santa Cruz and Bandra. A source said that properties suspected to be owned by D-Company front men were receiving extra attention.

Interestingly, a former chief of the Maharashtra anti-terror squad is suspected to have had financial dealings with the Mirchis. A few sources said that this was one reason why the top cop was shunted out of the ATS.

A senior ED official told THE WEEK that the senior politician with the alleged links to Sunblink “was a facilitator”. “On many occasions, he received and funnelled money from Mirchi and his family. He had active knowledge,” the officer said.

The officer said that the politician often selected spots and places where “financial transactions happened”, and even acted as courier on a few instances. A financial intelligence unit had red-flagged his involvement a few years back, and that report almost coincided with the time the ED was asked to watch him.

“The role of a Congress minister in the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party regime is also being probed,” the ED officer said. Interestingly, the dossier identifies Parveen Firoz Memon thus: “Constituted attorney of Hajra Iqbal Memon, acting in her interest and on her behalf in India. She is a member of the NCP and a corporator of Panchgani Municipality.”

Another interesting nugget is that the dossier has no reference to Mirchi’s second wife, Heena Kausar, a yesteryear starlet. Reports suggest that she was at loggerheads with Asif and Junaid over Mirchi’s properties. In 2011, she unsuccessfully moved court to have Mirchi’s passport returned and his name cleared. Despite the disputes with the sons, Heena believed in Mirchi and stood by him to the end. Does it surprise you? It shouldn’t. Heena is the daughter of filmmaker K. Asif, director of Mughal-e-Azam (1960).

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