The biggest-ever seizure of cash in new currency today grew to over Rs 5 crore even as the Income Tax department said it detected unaccounted income worth Rs 152 crore after it conducted searches in a dozen premises in Bengaluru and other locations.
I-T officials said the cash found, after searches were launched yesterday on the premises of two engineers, working with the state government, and two contractors has risen to Rs 5.7 crore and these notes are in the denomination of the newly introduced currency of Rs 2000.
"Total admission of unaccounted income by the group stands at Rs 152 crore. Investigations are on," they said.
They added the department also recovered 7 kg bullion and jewellery weighing 9 kg, worth Rs 5 crore, after these operations.
"About 90 lakh has been found in the old demonestised currency. In addition, several property documents were also found and seized," they said.
A team of over 50 I-T sleuths and police personnel had launched operations yesterday and searched premises in Bengaluru, Chennai and Erode (Tamil Nadu).
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), the policy-making body of the tax department, had said in a statement here yesterday that: "the new notes and bullion are learnt to have been obtained by exchange of demonetised notes by payment of commission of an engineer and a contractor."
The tax sleuths had also seized some notes of Rs 100, demonetised notes of Rs 500 and a few gold biscuits during the operation, they said, adding the department had to call in note counting machines and additional staff to ascertain the value of the cash.
What had surprised the tax authorities is the sheer amount of new currency stashed by these individuals at a time when new notes are not available to the common public which is queueing up to withdraw even small amounts from their accounts.
"Rs 5.7 crore is the highest seizure of the new currency in the country post the currency ban on November 8. Some entry operators and bankers are under the scanner. Such volume of new currency cannot be obtained without connivance of bank officials," a senior I-T department official said.
The department has also found a number of identity cards of various individuals from the searched premises which could have been used to illegally change the old currency with new ones.
The taxman also found a number of luxury cars parked in these locations.
Two days back, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had seized Rs 10 lakh cash in new notes of Rs 2000 from the premises of a Kolkata-based doctor.
ED had conducted nationwide search operations yesterday at 40 locations and seized about Rs 1 crore in new notes.
Both the I-T department and the ED, along with other enforcement agencies and police, are undertaking these operations after reports of instances of illegal exchange of old currency and stashing of new currency notes to perpetrate hawala and money laundering like activities.
Raising the issue for discussion in the Assembly, Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar said when the common man was facing difficulty in getting money, how did the two officials get such large amounts of notes.
Citing media reports which claimed that officials were considered close to Chief Minister, he demanded that the government issue a clarification.
Alleging that promotions to these officials were not on merit, Shettar said, "Both of them had faced Lokayukta raids, and Lokayukta had sought for prosecution against them which the government did not grant."
Demanding a fair, impartial inquiry into the case, he said investigation should be done by an independent central agency.
"Most important thing is we also need to find who is behind them, what is the source of this money. There is also a need to find banks involvement in the transactions," Shettar added.
Replying on the government's behalf, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister T B Jayachandra said further action would be taken against them based on the I-T department report.
He said the government would not tolerate such things and "we will not protect them."
Rejecting allegations that they were close to the Chief Minister, Jayachandra said, "Just because they belong to certain community, it cannot be said "someone is close to CM or someone in the government and attempts are being made to protect them."
Stressing that central government agencies and RBI should keep vigil on such activities, he said, "(The) corrupt will not be protected.