HAWALA: THE MEAT OF THE MATTER
Moin Qureshi, the meat exporter raided by the IT department, appears to be a hawala operator linked to top politicians and bureaucrats
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
The power corridors in the Capital are abuzz with speculation and rumours about the Income Tax Department raids on a little-known meat exporter, Moin Qureshi. He was close to the Congress government and the timing of the raid could deeply embarrass the party, which already has its back against the wall.
Qureshi’s name drew a blank from most people until Narendra Modi, the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, raised the issue in an election rally in Akbarpur — claiming that the exporter’s links reached right up to 10 Janpath. This allegation differed from his usual complaint about meat subsidies or what he calls the ‘pink revolution’.
But the fixers active in elite circles, as well as politicians, say Qureshi is not just any meat exporter. He runs his office out of a rented accommodation in the posh Defence Colony. The property is registered in the name of the mother of former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief, AP Singh.
Informed chatter suggests Qureshi is a well-connected hawala operator with links to not just senior politicians — cutting across party lines — but also top bureaucrats, including the current and former chiefs of the CBI. “In 2004, his close relatives said he was trying hard to be the BJP candidate from Rampur,” says a source. His business interests include meat processing, real estate and even fashion marketing, run by daughter Pernia Qureshi. She is married to Arjun Prasad, a close relative of junior Cabinet Minister Jitin Prasada.
The background to the raid is interesting. British intelligence alerted the Indian authorities that a huge sum of money (said to be around Rs 30 crore) had been transferred from a bank account in Dubai to one in London. The account holder had an Indian passport. Sources say the Finance Minister himself took charge and ordered an investigation. The Income Tax authorities started listening to his mobile phone conversations in December last year. By February, they had amassed 520 hours of explosive recordings which reportedly feature at least four ministers in the Union Cabinet, top CBI officials and several corporates who have cases pending with the apex investigating agency. “This could be bigger than the Radia tapes,” a lobbyist told Hardnews.
“Ours is a story of sweat and toil,” reads the catalogue of AMQ Agro, one of Qureshi’s flagship firms. Born to Abdul Majid Qureshi, famous in the city as Munshi Majid, a small-time meat trader in Rampur, he was the privileged of the three sons. “His father, who was known in the city for selling cow meat and smuggling narcotics, including marijuana, and even gold, was able to earn enough to ensure his proper education,” says a local who has known the family for years. He attended a famous public School in Dehradun and later St Stephen’s College in New Delhi.
“After his father died, he took over the small abattoir in Rampur for a couple of years,” the local says. “He used to trade in sausage casings then.” Qureshi then moved to Delhi. “He lived in rented accommodation in Defence Colony with his wife, Nargis Qureshi, a Pakistani national whose family had moved to the other side of the border from Rampur. Within a short span, he was rubbing shoulders with elite businessmen like the Burmans of Dabur fame and the Modis,” adds the local.
Insiders suggest that Qureshi’s big break came a few years later, in the mid-1990s. “Somehow, he managed close proximity to a senior Congress politician in Punjab who later went on to become the Chief Minister. That’s how he and his associate, Ponty Chadha, the controversial businessman who was killed last year in a shootout, managed to get the licence for alcohol trade in the state,” says the source.
Files with the Registrar of Companies show Qureshi as an active director in only two firms during the 1990s — Glory Exports Private Limited (since 1994) and Juneja Marketing Private Limited (since 1996). Flagship firm AMQ Agro was incorporated in 2003. Qureshi has 25 other firms registered with the Registrar.
Many people attribute his rise to the connections he developed within the school and college alumni associations, members of which man important positions in political parties, the government and the bureaucracy.
In past months there has been a lot of speculation on how CBI chief Ranjit Sinha was at loggerheads with many senior ministers and was cosying up to the BJP. So much so that Open magazine ran a cover story on how senior ministers and a politician close to the top leadership of the Congress party had tried to influence the CBI chief and Salim Ali, the former special director of the CBI, to ‘fix’ Amit Shah in the encounter cases being probed by the intelligence agency. The article suggested that, while Ali was ready to play ball, Sinha did not agree. Sources close to Ali told Hardnews that the story was “definitely a plant”. One of the Union Ministers also refuted the allegations and said such a meeting never took place.
The CBI refrained from naming Shah in the Ishrat Jehan encounter in spite of strong evidence suggesting his involvement. Moreover, there are unanswered questions as to how a top corporate from Mumbai was let off after questioning by the CBI despite damning evidence suggesting his role in the 2G scam.
Sources say the jigsaw falls in place once Qureshi is brought into the picture. Said to be close to the CBI top brass, he was allegedly cutting deals at the behest of corporates and politicians. The money routed from Dubai to London, sources say, was the bribe paid to a former CBI chief considered close to Qureshi. The February raids at many of his properties, including his office in Defence Colony and his residences in Chatarpur and Rampur, unearthed not just unaccounted for cash stuffed in lockers, but also conversations that Qureshi himself had recorded with many of his powerful clients. The IT department officials reportedly unearthed wealth many times more than the turnover of his several companies put together.
The telephone recordings and other papers recovered in the raids are being investigated by the Income Tax Department. However, there has been little progress. “The case involves many big politicians and two CBI chiefs. Don’t expect much to happen,” commented a senior investigator of the Finance Ministry.