Who is Santiago Martin, the individual who purchased electoral bonds totaling 1,368 crores?

The fraudulent individual lotteries and the two crore rupees bestowed upon Deshabhimani Newspaper also contributed to Martin’s notoriety in Kerala. However, it was the announcement of the Pope’s blessing that propelled Martin to international renown.

Presently, India finds itself delving into an investigation regarding the purchasers of election bonds. Once again, electoral bonds have seized the nation’s attention after the Election Commission, as directed by the Supreme Court, disclosed details of bonds bought through SBI between 2019 and 2024. Among the notable names engaging in this financial practice are industry giants such as Lakshmi Mittal, Bharti Airtel, Vedanta, ITC, Mahindra & Mahindra, DLF, PVR, Birlas, Bajaj, Jindals, SpiceJet, and Indica. However, one name stands out – Santiago Martin. Renowned among Malayalis during the lottery boom of the late 90s, Santiago Martin’s firm, according to reports, purchased electoral bonds through SBI totaling Rs 1,368 crore. The involvement of a lottery tycoon in electoral affairs garnered significant media attention, prompting inquiries into Martin’s identity and his company.

The journey of Santiago Martin from a laborer in Yangon, Myanmar, to a prominent figure in India began in 1988. Upon his return, Martin founded ‘Martin Lottery Agency Limited’ in Coimbatore, swiftly earning the moniker of India’s ‘King of Lottery’. However, legal troubles soon followed, including cases of unauthorized lottery operations and the distribution of counterfeit lotteries. Despite setbacks, Martin expanded his lottery business, rebranded as ‘Future Gaming’, to various Indian states, including Karnataka and Kerala. Today, Martin’s lottery empire, operating under the guise of ‘Deer Lottery’, wields considerable influence across 13 states. Martin’s ventures extend beyond the lottery industry, spanning real estate, construction, energy, media, hospitality, healthcare, education, technology, and more. His involvement in various sectors, including film production, further propelled his fame, especially after receiving the apostolic blessing of Pope Benedict XVI.

However, Martin’s ascent to fame was marred by allegations of financial misconduct. Accusations of cheating the Sikkim government in lottery sales, donations to political entities, and involvement in illegal lottery operations led to legal battles and investigations by agencies such as the CBI and ED. In 2022, assets of Martin’s company were attached in a money laundering case, followed by further seizures in the subsequent year. Recent raids on Martin’s properties and those of his associates underscore the ongoing scrutiny surrounding his activities.

The staggering sum of electoral bonds purchased by Martin, totaling Rs 1,394 crore, has rattled the media. Yet, uncovering the precise purpose behind these transactions remains challenging due to the opaque nature of electoral bonds.