It was when Ranjan Pai, Chairman of Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG), spotted a transaction of Rs 3.5 crore to a Dubai-based company taking place without his approval that he knew something was amiss. Ranjan lodged a complaint at the Cubbon Park Police Station in Bengaluru in December 2018 against the then Deputy General Manager (Finance) of MEMG Sandeep Gururaj, accusing him of diverting Rs 62 crore from the company with the help of accomplices.
But now, the police have unearthed Sandeep’s connection to Goa-origin fraudster Sydney Lemos, who was convicted of fraud by a Dubai court in 2016 and sentenced to 517 years imprisonment.
How it all began
Sandeep had been working with the Manipal Group since the age of 23, and had earned the trust of Ranjan Pai, and was named the Deputy General Manager. He was also authorised to oversee online transactions on behalf of the company. Over a period of three years, Sandeep diverted small amounts from various accounts of the Manipal Group to accounts of companies held by him and his accomplices, amounting to a total of Rs 62 crore. The companies were set up to divert funds.
There are a total of five accused in the case — Sandeep, his wife Charusmita, Amrita (who worked in an HR role in Manipal alongside Sandeep in the company at one point in time), Amrita’s brother Vishal Somanna, and their mother Meera Chengappa.
Sandeep floated a fraudulent company called Sanctum, while another company called Beehives was started in his wife Charusmita’s name. A third company – Vedanta General Trading – was floated in the name of Vishal, who had transferred Rs 8 crore to his mother Meera’s bank account.
Fresh connection to Sydney Lemos
The police said that funds from accounts held by the Manipal Group were also invested in Exential, a company floated by Sydney Lemos. Investigating officials suspect that Sydney and Sandeep colluded with the help of Vishal, who worked as a pilot with Qatar Airways. Many of Exential's investors were crew members of airlines.
Exential promised returns on funds of up to 120%. Sandeep had initially received the promised returns, but following Sydney’s conviction, Sandeep's investments to the tune of $4,25,000 were not returned.
Police officials investigating the case came across WhatsApp conversations between Sandeep and Sydney that took place after March 2016, in which Sandeep is pleading with Sydney to return the money he invested.
Ayanna Reddy, police inspector at Cubbon Park Police Station, says, “Sydney, however, told Sandeep that he is occupied and that he cannot return the money at the moment. But this established the link between the two," explains Ayanna Reddy, police inspector at Cubbon Park Police Station.
How the scam unravelled
A December 2018 transaction was the reason the financial fraud unravelled.
“When there are large amounts to be transferred, a voice confirmation is mandatory and it was during the transaction made in December that the chairman of the group was alerted to the fraud after a voice confirmation request came to Ranjan Pai," says Ayanna.
Ranjan Pai filed a complaint in December 2018 after discovering the irregularities and soon after the case was registered, police arrested Sandeep, Charusmita, Amrita and Meera. Vishal Somanna is still on the run. "We are trying to catch Vishal and bring him to justice," adds Ayanna.