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FIR filed against Natural8 India; agencies also probing money-laundering & foreign remittances angle

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The Goa police has filed a First Information Report (FIR) against online poker website Natural8 India’s parent company, Gamoski Networks Private Limited and its directors Kunal Patni and Sonia Madan Jain for cheating, criminal breach of trust and gambling under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Goa Public Gambling Act.

As per the FIR, Gamoski Networks and the accused persons, Patni and Jain, allow players to deposit money on the Natural8 website and play the game of poker. However, the FIR alleges that there is manipulation, cheating and rigging of games as well as misappropriation of funds.

According to sources, Patni has been summoned by the Goa police to join the investigation on 25th February, 2024 wherein further probe will be conducted into the activities of Natural8 India website. It is understood that authorities are also probing the fact that Natural8 India allows Indian players to compete and play games against players who are unknown and unverified players which may include users located outside India of various foreign nationalities, who deposit and play money in foreign currency, however, this fact is hidden from the Indian users.

Authorities, including Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Directorate General of Goods and Services Tax Intelligence (DGGI) are also said to be probing non-compliances and breaches under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA), Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and whether GST is paid on foreign users or bots competing against Indian users on the Natural8 India website. Further, transactions involving potential money-laundering of around Rs. 100 crores are reportedly under the authorities’ lens.

The authorities are concerned that Indian users can play against players located outside the country, including against players residing in countries not having friendly relations with India, and money from Indian players get transferred to players registered outside India. Websites like Natural8 can also be used as a conduit for hawala transactions and illegal foreign money transfers outside India as per the authorities.

Authorities are also said to be probing the satellite tournaments of Asia Poker Tour (APT) Taipei scheduled to be held in April-May 2024 that were recently conducted on the Natural8 India platform and the money trail and remittances involved in the tournament.

It may be noted that Natural8 India had launched operations in September 2023 by a licensing agreement with the global Natural8 website, with Patni as the founder. The website has been conducting some of the largest tournaments in the country by allowing players across the globe to compete with Indian users. According to experts allowing international players to play against Indian players is not permitted under FEMA and other laws.

The global Natural8 website is owned by the GGPoker group, which is one of the largest global online gaming operators having gambling licenses from various countries and having tied up with the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

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