According to sources, the city police’s crime branch, which is probing the case, has summoned owners of RPG Power Trading Ltd, Anant Udyog LLP, Purvanchal Leasing Ltd, Pan Capital Investment, Dynamic Storage and Retrieval Systems Private Ltd to join the investigation on Friday.
Sources say also under the scanner is an alleged one-time payment made by Hansa Group to Republic TV.
“Hansa has made a payment of Rs 32 lakhs to Republic TV. When the company’s (Hansa) director was questioned on the same he claimed he wasn’t aware. However when Republic CFO, S Sundaram was questioned about it, he accepted that the company had received a payment of Rs 32 lakhs from Hansa but he couldn’t recall the details and would get back on the same,” said a senior police officer privy to the probe development. “Hansa is a vendor of BARC that installs bar-o-meters, the transaction prima facie seems to be of suspicious nature and hence the two companies have been questioned on the same and the transaction is being probed by the audit team,” added the official.
On Tuesday, Republic issued a statement claiming that it was a payment made by Hansa Vision to Republic in lieu of advertisement on its channel while the Mumbai Police said that they are probing the transaction.
“It is categorically clarified that Hansa Research has never done any business with Republic… The payment made by Hansa Vision to Republic is in lieu of the on-air advertising done for the period of October 2017 to October 2018. To put the record straight: all channels receive advertising from media buying companies and that is not a crime. These facts are completely legitimate and in the open, backed by way of documentation for every transaction relating to it,” a statement released by Republic TV said. ““Hansa Vision is one such media agency which has done business with regard to a global brand with Republic for the purpose of advertising on our Network,” it further adds.
“During the course of investigation it has been revealed that there has been a money trail of transaction between a Hansa group company and ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd, which is the company operating Republic TV channels. These transactions as well as such connectivity with the suspect channels was not revealed to the SIT by any of the witnesses from any of the Hansa group companies,” the statement issued by Mumbai Police read.
“According to general business ethics and guidelines issued by the ministry, Hansa research or any of its associate company cannot engage in business with any TV channels even for the purpose of advertisement whose TRP is being monitored by BARC and Hansa group is directly associated with BARC for installing the bar-o-meters. We are probing if Hansa Research which is the complainant in the case is the real beneficiary of this transaction and also accomplice,” Sachin Waze, the investigating officer in the case told ET.
TRP guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting states , “ .. any member of the board of directors (BOD) of the television rating company shall not be in the business of broadcasting advertising/ advertising agency”.
Hansa Research, which is the complainant in the case however clarified thar it has no dealings with Republic TV. “Hansa Research categorically states that it has had no business dealings with Republic TV and no payment has been made to the channel nor received from the channel. In a statement reported in the media, the Crime Branch spokesperson investigating the TRP scam has alleged that Hansa Research has made payment of Rs 32 lakhs to Republic TV which is incorrect,” the press statement read.
Shekar Swamy, Group CEO Hansa said: “Our group company Hansa Vision India Pvt Ltd is in the advertising business. It purchases advertising time and space in various TV channels, newspapers, radio, digital platforms and other media regularly for its clients. This is normal, routine business. The last time Hansa Vision has purchased advertising time in Republic TV was two years ago for the period from Sept 2017 to Oct 2018 for a value of Rs 108 lakhs. The Mumbai Police is perhaps incorrectly linking this with the current TRP related investigation”.
“So far the probe has revealed that advertisers and investors rely heavily on TRPs to decide on which channel to invest. The statements of the investors is an important link in the case. They will be asked as to what are the factors taken into consideration while deciding on investments,” said an official privy to the probe.
While the city police has claimed a notional loss of over thousands of crores caused to the advertisers due to alleged rigging of TRPs, the probe is trying to ascertain the exact amount as well as the companies, including both advertisers and investors, who were allegedly defrauded by the accused channels who got the TRPs rigged.
In a related development, one of the accused in the case, Umesh Mishra, recently wrote a letter to the Mumbai Police stating that he washed to turn an approver. On Monday, the city police didn’t oppose his bail plea. “A few days ago while in jail custody, he wrote a letter to the crime branch requesting that he wants to disclose the facts in the case and help police unearth the entire conspiracy. He has agreed to turn as an approver in the case. On Monday, the police didn’t object to his bail plea stating that he has been cooperating in the investigation. Following which he was granted bail by the court,” defence counsel KH Giri told ET.
In an earlier court filing reviewed by ET, the police had told the court that Mishra who received money from other arrested accused, allegedly bribed households to watch Republic TV.
Ten people including five former employees of Hansa have been arrested in the case.
The police are investigating Republic TV, Fakt Marathi, News Nation, Maha Movie and Box Cinema for allegedly having engaged in manipulation of TRPs “by bribing the households to increase the viewership of their channels/programmes so that subsequently their ratings increase, resulting in windfall economic benefit for the said channel/programmes”, according to the first information report. “A manipulated TRP rating results in several advertisers to part with huge money to undeserving channels, thereby causing unlawful losses to all the concerned parties.”
Viewership monitoring agency BARC India had authorised subsidiary Meterology Data to install and operate viewership meters through vendors, including Hansa Research Group . The allegation is that confidential information on the location of the metered television sets was leaked and viewers were paid to keep their sets tuned to specific channels.