THE THANE police probing the multi-crore call centre racket involved in duping American citizens suspect that the accused used the hawala channel to divert the proceeds of the crime into India. The suspicion comes from the revelation made by the arrested call centre employees who have confided that they their salaries were paid in cash.
“We don’t suspect that the accused would leave a money trail by using bank accounts to transfer their ill-gotten gains. Hawala seems to be the more favorable route and we suspect that the amounts were transferred through hawala operators,” said a senior official privy to the investigation into the case.
“The arrested call centre employees have revealed that they used to bully US citizens and forced them to pay ‘taxes’ by purchasing gift cards and coercing them to share the 16-digit serial number. The gift cards were then encashed. We suspect a local contact in USA would be entrusted with the job of encashing these cards and then transferring the money through hawala channels,” the official added. Sources claimed that the exact money trail would be clear once the mastermind was in their net. The police are also probing if the money was transferred through forex services.
“We suspect that this mode would not be used as it is regulated in India and might leave the accused exposed,” the official said. Sources said if they did stumble upon evidence showing that money was laundered, they would write to the Enforcement Directorate (ED). On its part, a senior official from the ED told The Indian Express that they would look into the alleged hawala transactions if the police referred the case to them. “We have not received any communication from the police as of now,” he said.
US law enforcing agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have contacted the Thane police in the case. “There is no question of they being allowed to interrogate our accused but we will see if an interview with the accused could be facilitated. Whatever information that could be shared under the MLAT agreements will be provided to the foreign counterparts,” explained the official.
The police also hope their US counterparts would share information about the case. “The scam cannot be operated without a local contact. We would require the help of our USA counterparts in the case, especially in deducing the money trail,” added the official. While the hunt for the mastermind continues, the police claim they have zeroed in on the accused. Sources said they had his “pseudonym” and teams were working to nab him.
“All call centres were operated by one mastermind. We have information on him and are working on it,” Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said. He said it seemed the racket was not limited to Thane but extended to Gujarat and Delhi. “The probe will ascertain the extent of the scam,” added Singh.
Police raided eight Mira Road call centres late Tuesday night. According to police, the victims in the US were threatened with a “tax investigation” by the call centre executives impersonating as IRS officials. To escape tax investigation, Singh said, many Americans agreed to pay between $500 and $60,000. Five of the call centres have been identified as Tech Solutions, I-Sense BPO, Call-Tech Solutions, Lorex Impex Pvt Ltd and Universal Outsourcing Services.
“The others have not been registered and therefore we have not got their names,” added Singh. “BPO industry is not regulated, some part of it is controlled by NASSCOM and Ministry of Industries but it is to a limited extent. This was the reason behind such call centres flourishing in a brazen manner,” said an officer. NASSCOM President R Chandrasekhar said, “We are ready to provide whatever help possible to the police to get to the bottom of such cases.”