The Income Tax (I-T) Department, which seized US bonds worth $5 billion (around Rs 27,000 crore) from Tamil Nadu-based commodity trader T M Ramalingam, was looking into the Barclays Bank's link, since documents hinted at its involvement in some deals, a senior I-T official said.
Barclays Chief Operating Officer Ram Gopal said: "I am out of office in Chennai. Please contact the (Mumbai) office." In an email response to a request for comment, a Barclays spokesperson said: "We have no comment on this."
But, Barclays was not the only bank Ramalingam had deals with. The department has frozen his accounts in two public sector banks and a private bank. The department is examining records of each of these banks for possible clues. According to officials, Ramalingam's three-four bank accounts had a balance totalling over Rs 15 crore.
He runs an agricultural commodities business, Vallinayagi Traders and Commission Agents, in Dharapuram. Unlike his peers in the business, the forty-something is said to be well-travelled and appears to be as comfortable with the instruments of the Orient as he is with the US bonds. "Chinese gold bonds of 1930s vintage were among the documents recovered," said another official close to the matter, adding: "The certificates from International Bank of Settlements showing holdings of US bonds have some directions printed on them to check their genuineness based on the codes."
On initial verification on relevant websites, the results were positive, suggesting the bonds were genuine. "But bank experts dealing with such instruments have been called to vet the bonds," he added.
Officials are also exploring if some of these gold bonds were exchanged for the American instruments. Further, the department is of the view that if the bonds were genuine, investigations would proceed on the source of what will be "the biggest ever haul" of illegal money. On the other hand, if the bonds were fake, "a big racket would have been caught".
Ramalingam allegedly has used these bonds to convince people about his ability to raise hundreds of crores in bank loans for big projects. "He seems to have taken money from people promising bank loans. A legal notice from an aggrieved party in one such transaction was also recovered during the raid."
Ramalingam did not want to comment on any of these allegations, pending proceedings. "I want all this to get over quickly," he told Business Standard over phone on Thursday.
Officials have summoned him to Chennai for inquiry. While I-T officials played down Ramalingam's plans of setting up an oil refinery as a trigger for the raids, he continued to maintain he had submitted an application to set up a crude oil refinery in Ramanathapuram district. "Perhaps that or my recent purchase of a new car might have brought the tax officials to my doors," he said. On the funding source for the refinery project, he said: "Foreign investors will fund and, once I get the licence, I would approach banks for loan."
When asked about source of funding of the bonds or whether he was holding those for somebody else, he said: "Those are in my name and the matter is under investigation."