Mumbai:  The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has virtually ‘exonerated’ Republic TV and R. Bharat — English and Hindi news channels owned by Arnab R. Goswami, but the agency has booked 16 others of various private television channels and a market research group, for alleged money-laundering charges in the sensational TRP scam that erupted two years ago.

The ED charge sheet was filed on September 26 on behalf of Assistant Director Pawan Kumar before the Special PMLA Court Mumbai, and has sought initiation of proceedings, among others, to confiscate the provisionally attached properties of all the accused as stipulated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, as they were bought from the proceeds of the crime.

The accused named are: Shirish V. Pattanshetty and Manish R. Sangh, both owners of ‘Fakht Marathi’ channel, their company Lotus Enterprises, Narayan N. Sharma, owner of ‘Box Cinema’ channel and his company Box Cinemedia Pvt. Ltd., Vishwajeet O. Sharma and Darshan B. Singh, both owners of ‘Mahamovie’ channel and their company Teleone Consumers Product Pvt. Ltd.

The others are: Bompally Rao Mistry of Sanch Media, Umesh C. Mishra, Vishal V. Bhandari, Dinesh P. Vishwakarma, Vikas V. Burungale, Ashwin C. Motiwale, Mahesh S. Bompalli and Rajesh K. Vishwakarma (all ex-employees of Hansa Research Group), as named in the charge sheet.

The ED has urged the Special Court to take cognisance and issue process against all the accused individuals (for arrest), order the confiscation of their movable and immovable assets, seize their passports, etc.

Presumably giving a ‘clean chit’ to Goswami and his news channels, the ED termed its investigations under PMLA as “at variance” with the probe initially conducted by the Mumbai Police, as “no such evidence is forthcoming” in the statements of the accused/witnesses, digital data evidence and analysis of the raw data provided by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).

The ED said that the Mumbai Police — which had first exposed the scam in 2020 — relied on a forensic audit report of Acquisory Risk Consulting Pvt. Ltd., that contended how the TRP calculation methodology was tinkered with and controls used to favour specific channels, was superficial and based on analysis of limited aspects.

The Mumbai Police had named Republic TV, India Today and other channels as allegedly involved in the TRP scam that had shaken up the country’s media industry and sparked a massive political uproar.

In view of its findings, the ED charge sheet has not mentioned Republic TV, R. Bharat channels, its Editor-in-Chief Goswami or his company ARG Outlier Media, or any BARC officials.

However, the ED probe has detected instances of TRP manipulations not only in Mumbai and Maharashtra but also Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and has called for the FIRs filed by the respective state police for investigations.

Another FIR was registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police, which has now been transferred and under probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Delhi.

“From the investigations and evidence gathered, it is clearly established that the (16) accused committed the offence of money laundering… and are liable to be prosecuted and punished… and the provisionally attached properties involved in the money-laundering are liable to be confiscated… as per the PMLA, ” the ED concluded.

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