Ponzi scanner on Kolkata’s Tollywood, TV industry

KOLKATA: The Bengali film and television industry has come under the scanner of CBI investigating Ponzi scams in the state.

Several Bengali movies and TV serials are suspected to have been financed by Ponzi scheme operators. This came to light in June 2014 when Bangladesh Bank’s foreign exchange control board informed the sleuths about a payment allegedly received in an illegal manner by a Tollywood actress for working in a commercial in the neighbouring country.

During investigations, CBI came to know that this is not the only case and several other film personalities have allegedly received payments through unlawful means from Ponzi scheme operators. The investigators also have reasons to believe that the Ponzi firms’ money that went abroad through hawala routes was channelled back to the Bengali film and television industry.

CBI sources said that four actors and a couple of directors from the Bengali film industry are under their scanner.

According to CBI sources, the foreign exchange control board of Bangladesh’s central bank — the Bangladesh Bank — informed them that a reputable Bengali actress — whose mother is reportedly close to the ruling Trinamool Congress — allegedly received a payment of US$ 50,000 for working in a Bangladeshi commercial. The agency informed that no permission had been granted for making this payment and it is a punishable offence under Bangladesh money laundering law.

“Most of the Indian actors come to Bangladesh for commercial purpose without seeking any permission for their visits from the Bangladeshi authorities. Recently, a Bollywood superstar was also paid a huge amount in an illegal manner for his performance in Dhaka. We are trying to find out who had made the payment,” a CBI officer said.

CBI investigators found that there has been a meteoric rise in the production and release of films in between 2006 and 2012 — a period when the collective investments schemes launched by the chit fund companies in Bengal were doing brisk business. Till then, the number of releases of Bengali movies used to hover around 50 a year. But, during this period, the number rose to a whopping 150. “Surprisingly, most of the films failed to do good business. Yet, the producers financed new films and actors were paid astronomical amounts,” an investigator said.

The investigators suspect that around Rs 100 crore of “Ponzi” money have been invested in Bengali movies and another Rs 400 crore were pumped in television serials and channels.

CBI has identified at least 26 films, including two national award winning films, which were funded by alleged Ponzi companies. “The Bengali film and TV industry received funds not only from chit fund companies during this period, but also from unknown foreign sources. We will investigate this. We are monitoring the accounts of at least four leading actors and a couple of directors. We have also requested the Bangladesh government to share more details,” a senior CBI officer said.


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