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Siddaramaiah's 'diamond-studded' Hublot watch back in news

By Pti
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    Bengaluru, May 7: Stepping up the attack against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the BJP has accused him of 'aiding, abetting, protecting and promoting' the cheating of private investors in an alleged Ponzi scheme run by a company.

    Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah

    The BJP intends to file a complaint with the governor to sanction the prosecution of Siddaramaiah for dealing with company, "which is declared as a threat to national security by the Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO)," party spokesperson Sambit Patra told reporters on Sunday. The BJP also sought to know whether Siddaramaiah received the costly Hublot watch for 'facilitating' the company, QI Group of Companies, headed by Vijay Eswaran, to operate in the state. Embroiled in a controversy over the diamond-studded Hublot watch in March 2016, Siddaramaiah had handed it over to the Assembly speaker, asking him to make it a state asset.

    The chief ninister had also said he would furnish relevant documents of the watch to the Lokayukta and Income Tax. He had said that the watch was gifted to him by his NRI friend Dr Girish Chandra Varma in July 2015.

    "I know him since 1983 and whenever he visits India, he meets me," he had said.

    Siddaramaiah also said Varma has no official dealings with the Government of Karnataka or its organisations. Patra said the SFIO has mentioned the names of Gold Quest and Quest Net, and read out its findings. In 2009, the CB-CID Chennai had declared Vijay Eswaran an absconder and in 2010, SFIO said such companies were a national threat, he said.

    Between 2013 and 2016, the Mumbai and Delhi Economic Offence Wing placed voluminous chargesheets saying that these were fraudulent companies, he added. Releasing pictures of Siddaramaiah with Vijay Eswaran, Patra said he had met him in September 2013. The issue of MS Gold Quest International Pvt Ltd and Gold Quest Enterprises India Pvt Ltd was discussed in March and April in 2013, when the UPA government told the Parliament that they were fraudulent companies, he alleged.

    In September 2013, Siddaramaiah met the absconder Eswaran in China, which was published in the website of the Information and Public Relations department of the Karntaka government in September 11, 2013, Patra claimed. The state government report said the chief minister met Eswaran, welcomed him to invest in Karnataka and asked him to participate in the Global Investors Meet in the state.

    The company expressed interest in investment in e-Retail and IT Education sector, it said. The company's business lines include lifestyles, leisure, luxury and luxury collectable and luxury watches. Patra further said, "They deal in luxury watches, costly watches, exquisite watches. These are one of the items they deal with."

    After a promise by Siddaramaiah, certain companies and QNet started operating in Karnataka and thousands and lakhs of people were duped by them, he claimed. Ironically, Patra said, no FIR was lodged against these companies.

    "Even if the complaint was lodged, there was no FIR. The companies names were not mentioned. When these people saw that the state government was not ready to work for them, the victims approached SEBI." Patra also said SEBI shot off a letter to the government of Karnataka on December 23, 2016 to act against them.

    However, the FIR was registered only recently when the Siddaramaiah government was reduced to a caretaker government due to the Assembly polls, the BJP spokesperson said. In a statement, QNET said it operates in India through Vihaan Direct Selling (India) Private Limited, its sub-franchisee, which is into direct selling on an e-commerce platform. The company neither solicits investments nor seeks any deposits or registration fees for joining the business, it said.

    "We are of the belief that the matter represented to the BJP spokesperson is incomplete and does not reflect the current status," a company spokesperson said.

    It also said Karnataka state investigated the company and filed a detailed chargesheet, which was quashed by the high court while holding that the company was not a Ponzi scheme. The Government of India has issued guidelines (to be adopted by states) and the company is fully compliant with the same, it added.

    PTI

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