A close aide of gangster Iqbal Mirchi, arrested for money laundering, had arranged "dummy" tenants in the alleged illegal property deals of the late druglord, an associate of global terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, the ED told a special court on Tuesday while seeking his custody. Humayun Merchant was arrested under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) Mumbai on Monday night, according to the central probe agency.
He was produced before PMLA judge P Rajvaidya, who remanded him to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) custody till October 24.
Merchant is being probed by the ED in connection with illegal real estate deals of Iqbal Mirchi alias Iqbal Memon, an associate of Dawood Ibrahim, and his family. According to the ED, Merchant, who is in his 70s, has admitted to his links with Mirchi, a druglord who died in London in 2013. The central investigating agency told court that the accused was a "close confidant" of Mirchi and possessed power of attorney to execute deals on his behalf.
It is alleged by the ED that Merchant "planted" tenants to purportedly usurp three immovable properties - Sea View, Marium Lodge and Rabia Mansion - in Worli, central Mumbai, belonging to the Sir Mohammad Yusuf Trust.
It is found that the initial tenants were replaced by Mirchi's relatives and close associates and by 2005 all tenants were Mirchi's nominees and were planted by Merchant, the probe agency said. Merchant has "admitted" he had arranged for "dummy tenants" in these buildings at the behest of Mirchi, the ED told the court. ED counsel Sunil Gonsalves informed the court that the accused "arranged" a meeting between Mirchi and the promoter of a local real estate firm, Joy Home Creation Pvt Ltd, in London where the modalities of one of the projects were discussed.
Merchant's links with a company, Sunblink Real Estate Pvt Ltd, promoted by senior NCP leader Praful Patel, are also under the ED's scanner. During the investigation, it came to light that theaccused had played a crucial role in the illegal dealings of Mirchi, the ED said. When Mirchi was on the run, Merchant acted as his "front man" in dealing with Joy Homes and Sublink, it said. In 2010, Sublink entered into a real estate sale deal of Rs 225 crore. Merchant was to receive Rs 170.75 crore as part of this deal, which the agency stated, were illegal funds and proceeds of crime of money laundering.
During the investigation, it was revealed that a sum of Rs 127 crore was paid by cheques by Sublink in favour of tenants, the agency said. The cheques were encashed by opening bank accounts in the names of these tenants in Chennai, which remained operatives only till the cheques were honoured, the ED said. Documents recovered from Merchant's premises revealed that the remaining Rs 43 crore (of the total Rs 170.75 crore) was to be paid by November 2019, the agency said. Meanwhile, Merchant, when allowed by the judge to speak, admitted that he knew Mirchi since childhood.
"From pin to piano, I have told ED everything I knew, he said. The ED had been questioning Merchant since September 21 in connection with the alleged property dealings.
"Late Iqbal operated everthing..I was just helping him. He (Mirchi) said he don't trust anyone, can you arrange tenancy from your family?. Only six tenancies were transfered through me," he said.
Merchant also claimed that he does not have any power of attorney and asked the ED to show him if they have any such document. The central agency has arrested two other people, Haroun Aleem Yusuf and Ranjeet Singh Bindra, for allegedly facilitating these deals, in this case early this month.
Yusuf is currently in judicial custody, while Bindra is in the ED's remand. Praful Patel, a former Union minister, was grilled by the ED in the case last week.