The irony couldn't have been greater. Manoj Prabhakar, the man with the "mission" of cleaning up cricket, is himself using half-truths and even blatant lies to wriggle out of a Rs 50-crore chit fund scam, engineered by a company called Apace, in which thousands of small investors from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have been duped of their hard-earned money. In a bid to clear his name in the chit fund fraud, Manoj has virtually tied himself up in knots. And despite his denial at a Delhi press conference, where he said (quoted by uni) that "he's in no way connected with the company, least of all as a director," incontrovertible evidence collected by Outlook shows that the former Test cricketer is neck-deep in the scam. The police have registered cases of cheating (under section 420 of the ipc) against Manoj Prabhakar and Divya Nautiyal, both directors of the Apace Group of companies.
The Evidence is Damning:
Everything seemed to have been going smoothly for the company with the number of investors spiralling every year. Problems began when some investors didn't get their returns when their policies matured. Lalit Chand of Haldwani was the first person to come out against Prabhakar, "the managing director" of Apace Saving and Mutual benefits Ltd. The Haldwani police registered a case of cheating (crime number 1444/99) under section 420/406/471 ipc on August 9, 1999, naming Prabhakar and Nautiyal as the accused. Another case of cheating (crime number 253/2000) was registered by the Haldwani police on March 7, 2000, against Nautiyal and Mahmood Hassan (another company director). Says Haldwani-based shopkeeper Rohit Bhatt, "We were influenced by Manoj Prabhakar. I thought he was a big name. He won't dupe us. I deposited Rs 20 daily for one year but they shut down the company." Another victim, Renu Aggarwal, a Haldwani newspaper vendor, is left with worthless certificates as the company office in Haldwani is locked and there's nobody to answer his queries.
Perhaps it was the cricketer's aura which prevented the police from taking action against Prabhakar. That is, until he sprung his James Bond act and opened up a Pandora's box. Attention was then drawn to the cases registered against the accuser himself. Prabhakar has denied all charges. But what he does not seem to have realised is that the documentary evidence scattered all over - in the shape of FD certificates, signed messages and scores of photographs - can put him in a tight spot.
According to Akhilesh Mehrotra, ssp (Nainital), the Apace company has defrauded investors to the tune of Rs 5 crore in Nainital district alone. The company also has thousands of investors in the adjoining districts of Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar and Almora. Overall, the company has allegedly cheated investors to the tune of Rs 50 crore. Almost everyday investors and even Apace employees are approaching the police to get cases registered against Prabhakar and the company. "We've got enough evidence against Prabhakar in this case," Mehrotra told Outlook.
Similarly, documents seized in Indore show that Prabhakar is very much involved in Apace activities. Two former employees filed a complaint against the financial services firm claiming that it had swindled their deposit of Rs 50,000. The two have also said that they collected vast sums of money from people under the impression that Prabhakar was a director of the company. Says Jaideep Prasad, additional SP (Indore), "We have registered cases against Prabhakar, Nautiyal and the company's Indore branch manager, Narendra Singh Bisht. The documents, especially the fixed deposit receipts, are enough evidence to arrest the accused."
The first company of the group, Apace Leasing and Finance Ltd, started working in Haldwani on May 4, 1990. In its first year the Apace Group had a business of Rs 5.09 lakh. By the end of '95-96, annual business was a whopping Rs 1,800.04 lakh. Within a period of six years, the fixed assets of the group multiplied nearly 200 times. In the 1990-91 financial year, it was only Rs 3.95 lakh and in '95-96 it touched Rs 702.08 lakh. At the moment, there are six companies working under the Apace Group: Apace Leasing and Finance Ltd; Apace Savings and Mutual Benefit Ltd; Apace Housing Finance and Constructions Ltd; Apace India Corporation Ltd; Apace Plantations and Resorts Ltd and Apace India Marketing Ltd.
Nautiyal, the owner of Apace, also has a political background. His father was a former minister in UP. But Divya himself was a mere liaison officer with the Sahara India Finance Company. He first became friendly with Ajay Sharma in 1990, when the latter was a Ranji player. Following this, he hit it off with Prabhakar and both entered into a business partnership. To gain public credibility the owners of the Apace Group roped in big names from the political and cricket arena. And perhaps aware that all might not want to join them in their business ventures, they floated an innocuous-sounding Apace Sports Club. Three Test players - Manoj Prabhakar, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Ajay Sharma - and Harishankar Tiwari, a notorious UP politician, are among the patrons of this club.
Meanwhile, for Apace's investors, the nightmare seems to have just begun.
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