The enforcement directorate (ED) has launched a probe into a city firm receiving Rs 55 crore from Bulgaria-based Zevzda, a vegetable oil supplier, in July. The amount was credited to Elamakkara resident Jose George’s account in SBI’s Wellington Island branch as letter of credit.
George withdrew Rs 30 crore soon after the money was transferred by a Bulgarian bank. He has been operating a licensed export firm, Trade International.
The withdrawn money was deposited into his relatives’ accounts. Besides, the firm had not exported anything to Bulgaria, making ED suspicious.
They also added that the deal might have been done in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act. The ED asked George to submit documents related to the shipment to the Bulgarian firm as the amount was transferred in the form of letter
of credit. The bank handed over the documents George had to the customs for verification. The shipping bill and the customs’ checklist did not mention any shipping undertaken by his firm.
“The accused seems to have forged a shipping bill to withdraw the money ,” a customs official said. The case was referred to ED as the letter of credit transfer had happened even before the export took place. “Trade International has made only a single export of sunflower oil, to Iraq in May , 2016.The company received order from Zevzda for exporting sunflower and sugar in May this year,” an ED official said.
“The export order was mas sive. With the infrastructure of Trade International, it was impossible to execute such a deal.Usually , the letter of credit is encashed only after the shipment is completed,” the official said.
“Any licence holder can enter the export details in the customs checklist but this will get invalid if the goods are not presented for inspection within 15 days. The accused, however, might have forged the customs seal to show that the shipment had happened,” he added.
After ED found forged customs seal claiming that goods have been shipped from Kochi, the department froze the account to which the money was transferred. The accounts of George’s relatives were also frozen.
Even though ED contacted Zevzda, it was yet to cooperate with the agency, officials said.”The Bulgarian company is not willing to file a complaint. Hence, we suspect that the money was sent for some other purpose,” the ED official said.
ED conducted a search at George’s office in Elamakkara.”Trade International is running from a rented apartment next to George’s residence. Apart from a few emails sent to unknown persons, we couldn’t find any ongoing activity in the company with only four employees. Statements of Jose George and his relatives were recorded. George used to be an NRI who returned to Kerala a few years ago,” officials said.
Meanwhile, the Harbour police registered another case, under IPC Section 420, against George for forging fake shipping bills with an intention of cheating the customs.