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CBI probe into Soma Enterprise points to NHAI official

Mamuni Das/Twesh Mishra New Delhi | Updated on November 26, 2019 Published on November 26, 2019

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has deepened its probe against the Hyderabad-based infrastructure company, Soma Enterprise Ltd, which has led the agency to the office and home of a National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) official.

“The office of a top official in NHAI technical wing was searched and documents in the office were seized,” said a source. The CBI searches in NHAI on Friday last week were linked to the case of a road project of the company, multiple sources told BusinessLine. However, they did not reveal the exact nature of alleged charges and suspicions that have led to these searches.

In September, a Soma Enterprise executive was arrested for allegedly attempting to bribe a CBI official. According to the FIR on the case, a bribe of ₹2 crore was offered to settle or close a pending case in favour of Soma Enterprise.

In his complaint sheet of September 2019, Asra Garg, Head of CBI’s Anti Corruption Branch, New Delhi, has stated that he was contacted by officials from the company - through a Home Ministry official - and was “offered a bribe of ₹2 crore” to settle an ongoing CBI enquiry in favour of Soma Enterprise.

National highway projects undertaken by Soma Enterprise include those connecting Panipat-Jalandhar in Punjab, Chennai-Elevated highway in Tamil Nadu, Surat-Hazira in Gujarat, Kishangarh-Ajmer-Beawar (Rajasthan), among others.

The financial situation of Soma Enterprise has been in doldrums, note credit rating agencies evaluating the financials of its projects.

According to the note of another credit rating agency, ICRA in 2019, Varanasi-Aurangabad highway project faced risk of equity infusion in right time. “..Even through Soma Enterprise Limited has experience of more than two decades in the engineering procurement contract business, there is execution risk due to its current weak financial and liquidity profile,” said ICRA.

Financial creditors had dragged Soma Enterprise to National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Branch in February charging the company owes them ₹ 900 crore. The NCLT admitted the charges and ordered commencement of “insolvency resolution process”. However, according to an announcement by the company on its website, a Supreme Court Order stayed the NCLT ordered insolvency proceedings, giving a breather to the company.

Attempts to contact the company did not yield results. An office executive of Soma Enterprise told BusinessLine over phone that the concerned person was travelling, while e-mail sent to the company on Tuesday seeking response to the CBI case remained unanswered.

Published on November 26, 2019
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