Enforcement Directorate questioned Tollywood director Puri Jagannath for 10 hours

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New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday questioned Telugu film lead director Puri Jagannath for nearly 10 hours in connection with a money laundering probe related to a four-year-old drug case.

Jagannath, who along with his chartered accountant, appeared before the ED officials after being called in connection with the probe, left the ED office on Tuesday night.

The ED officials are said to have recorded the statement of the director and questioned him about certain financial transactions.

Producer Bandla Ganesh also reached the ED office in the evening, leading to speculations that he too has been summoned. However, he clarified that he had only come to the ED office to meet his friend Jagannath, but he was not allowed. He requested the media not to associate him with the matter.

The ED had last week issued notices to 10 people linked to Tollywood and two others, including a private club manager, as part of a money laundering probe related to the drugs racket.

Actors Rakul Preet Singh, Rana Daggubati, Ravi Teja, Charmi Kaur, Navdeep, Mumaith Khan and Jagannadh have been asked to appear before the ED between August 31 and September 22.

Those who have been summoned include Tanish, Nandu and actor Ravi Teja’s driver Srinivas.

The inquiry is likely to reveal new facts about the drug racket, which was busted in 2017 with the arrest of drug peddlers.

Before initiating questioning of Tollywood celebrities, the ED collected details of the investigation conducted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Prohibition and Excise Department of Telangana.

The interrogation by the ED has again drawn attention to the case, which was in abeyance and was even presumed dead by many due to the clean chit given by the SIT to the film personalities.

The drugs racket was busted on July 2, 2017, when customs officials arrested a musician Calvin Mascarenhas and two others and seized drugs worth Rs 30 lakh from their possession.

They had reportedly told investigators that they were supplying drugs to film personalities, software engineers and even students of some corporate schools. Mobile numbers of some Tollywood celebrities were reportedly found in their contact list.

The Excise Department had constituted an SIT for a comprehensive investigation. A total of 12 cases were registered, 30 people were arrested, while 62 people, including 11 linked to Tollywood, were investigated under Section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The SIT had collected blood, hair, nails and other samples from some people who had come before it for questioning and sent them for analysis.

Ravi Teja, Charmme Kaur, Mumaith Khan, Jagannath and young actors Tarun Kumar and Navdeep were among the stars questioned by the SIT.

Cinematographer Shyam K. Naidu, actors Subbaraju, Tanish, Nandu and Teja’s driver were also questioned.

The SIT filed charge sheets in eight of the 12 cases. However, it gave a clean chit to the film personalities who were questioned as part of the investigation.

The accused against whom cases have been registered include Rafael Alex Victor, a South African national, Puttkar Ranson Joseph, who worked as a manager in the film industry. Joseph was the manager of lead actor Kajal Aggarwal who sacked him after his arrest. However, an NGO alleged that no effort was made to trace the customers of the accused.

The officers had recovered 3,000 units of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 105 grams of MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy), 45 grams of cocaine and other narcotic and psychotropic substances from the accused.

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