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23 Dec 2016

Cash cleaner slur on 'Fiddler'

Kinsuk Basu, Sambit Saha and Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, TT, Dec. 22: Parasmal Lodha, the Calcutta-based businessman known in realty circles as "Fiddler on the Roof" for his purported skills to add floors to buildings, has been arrested in a multi-city operation on the charge of converting demonetised notes valued at Rs 25 crore into valid currency.
Lodha was detained last night at Mumbai airport by the Enforcement Directorate minutes before he was to board a flight to Mauritius. The detention was formalised into an arrest in New Delhi today.
A lookout notice had been issued against him on Tuesday after his name emerged during investigations into money laundering by multiple central agencies.
Lodha's counsel said the allegations against his client were baseless.
In a 2010 interview, Lodha had told this newspaper sitting at his Queen's Park bungalow: "You will not find my name anywhere." He had said then that his business interest had shifted to Delhi over the past decade and a half and he owned a property valued at "a few hundred crores" in the capital besides mines in Mozambique. 
Today, he was booked under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and remanded in the directorate's custody for seven days.
Sources said Lodha's name had first cropped up a few weeks ago when income tax officers were questioning a group of five who had allegedly laundered Rs 68 crore from Calcutta. The five - "entry operators" in tax parlance - are middlemen who launder money on behalf of others through multiple bank accounts for a "fee" varying between 1 and 2 per cent.
Lodha's name is said to have cropped up again on December 12 when the crime branch of Delhi police and the income tax department raided a law firm in Greater Kailash in Delhi. The raid yielded over Rs 13 crore in cash. Of this, Rs 2.65 crore was in Rs 2,000 notes.
The name surfaced afresh - this time in Hyderabad - when the CBI raided businessman J. Shekhar Reddy and arrested him on Wednesday after allegedly recovering Rs 33.6 crore.
Lodha first came into the limelight in the late 1980s when he apparently bought 51 per cent of the shares of the Peerless General Finance and Investment Company Ltd. He bagged a seat among the board of directors. But he sold a chunk of his shares, leaving him with a 22 per cent stake.
In September 1991, P.C. Sen, Peerless chairman and managing director, had lodged a complaint against Lodha, alleging that he was planning to kill him. Lodha was questioned and let off.
In 2010, Lalbazar again started looking for Lodha following suggestions that he had built the fifth and sixth floors of Stephen Court, the Park Street building where 43 people were killed in a blaze. Eventually, it was alleged that Lodha had built two more floors of Tobacco House, the office building near the police headquarters.

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