Mistry (45), who has had no steady source of income for the past 1.5 years, through his aides paid households to watch three TV channels, police said. They have seized Rs 8.5 lakh found in Mistry’s bank locker and have also frozen his bank account, which, they say, had a balance of Rs 20 lakh.
“We found that since November last year, more than Rs 1 crore came into his account. These transfers happened after a gap of every two months, and each time an amount ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh was deposited. We have noticed five to six such money transfers in his account,” said a crime branch officer.
‘Forensic audit of transactions by 3 channels’
There are allegations that the arrested accused paid money to households, where people meters were installed, to watch these channels to increase their TRPs.
Mistry, a Versova resident, was responsible for distributing money to his protégé and another arrested accused, Vishal Bhandari, a former Hansa Research Group employee, a police officer said. “Money came from four to five people. We are now probing them to ascertain why they transferred money to Mistry,” said the officer.
Police found that while Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) rules state people meters cannot be installed at an employee’s residence, there was one installed at Bhandari’s home. Bhandari, while working with Hansa Research as relationship manager, was responsible for 83 households where the people meters were installed.
An officer said, “We have recorded statements of 38 of them. Some of them said they didn’t want to watch one particular English channel-—which is under probe—but agreed to do so on monthly payments of Rs 400 to Rs 500. Some people said Bhandari had transferred money through Google Pay.”
A Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) team led by API Sachin Waze is questioning the accused and has written to a bank asking for financial transactions in Republic TV’s account, according to a police officer who is closely involved in the probe.
Police have also formed a special team in the city’s economic offences wing (EOW) to probe the three TV channels’ financial transactions and carry out a forensic audit. Police have communicated to officials of income tax and GST and sought their assistance for a wider probe in this case, officials said.
The forensic audit of all the accounts and financial transactions will be done minutely by the forensic auditor, an officer said, adding investigation into transactions is vital to establish the crime.
A team led by deputy commissioner of police Parag Manera of EOW will invite applications from forensic auditors. “Forensic audit of these three channels will be carried out. We have to examine the funding, distribution of money and the source,” said an EOW officer. “Our teams will also focus on establishing if there was any diversion of funds,” he added.
The EOW normally carries out forensic audits in big cheating cases and cases of financial fraud. Police will also summon advertisers and examine their books of accounts and their advertising pattern.