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‘Hacker’ Sriki’s brother must cooperate in ED probe for clearance to leave India: Karnataka HC

The high court rejected a plea by Sudarshan Ramesh, the elder brother of hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, to quash a Look Out Circular issued by immigration authorities at the instance of the ED, on June 20.

Srikrishna Ramesh.

The Karnataka High Court has upheld a move by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to prevent the brother of an alleged Bengaluru-based hacker from leaving India during the investigation of a money laundering case.

The high court rejected a plea by Sudarshan Ramesh, the elder brother of hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, to quash a Look Out Circular issued by immigration authorities at the instance of the ED, on June 20.

Sudarshan Ramesh, 31, who works as an engineer in the Netherlands was prevented from leaving India in January this year – following a visit to meet his family – by immigration authorities on the basis of a lookout circular issued at the instance of the ED.

His younger brother, Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki, 28, is accused of hacking cryptocurrency exchanges and poker sites in India and abroad from the year 2013.

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The hacker is facing multiple cases registered against him by the Karnataka police since 2019 including a spate of cases that emerged after his arrest in a case of buying drugs on the Darknet in November 2020. The ED has filed two money laundering cases linked to hacking crimes in which Srikrishna is an accused.

In one of the cases registered by the Karnataka CID, Sriki is accused of stealing Rs 11.5 crore by hacking into the e-procurement portal of the Karnataka government in July-August 2019. The ED is probing the money laundering involved in this case as well as in a case of hacking poker sites and crypto exchanges registered by the Bengaluru Central Crime Branch in 2020.

The hacker has himself claimed to have been associated with the hacking of a major international cryptocurrency exchange, Bitfinex in 2015-16, while he was part of a hacking group as a computer science student in the Netherlands.
The hacker has also been at the centre of a political controversy over his release on bail in all cases in Karnataka in April 2021 with the opposition Congress alleging that bribes were possibly paid in Bitcoins to police officials and political persons to go easy on the cases.

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In the course of the high court plea filed by the hacker’s brother Sudarshan Ramesh for clearances to return to the Netherlands, the ED informed the Karnataka High Court that Srikrishna was involved in laundering funds stolen through hacking crimes. The ED alleged that the hacker used cryptocurrencies to launder funds stolen through his hacking activities.

He allegedly carried out conversions to multiple cryptocurrencies and traded the converted cryptocurrency on international platforms for personal gains.

The ED said that the hacker Sriki’s brother Sudarshan Ramesh received 50,000 British Pound out of crime proceeds in his account and transferred them in May 2021 to a person identified as Hanish Patel, a UK resident running a firm called GCP UK Ltd.

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The ED said that the hacker’s brother Sudarshan was unable to provide satisfactory explanations on the source of the 50,000 British Pound in his bank account and its subsequent diversion to the account of Hanish Patel.

The ED also said that the hacker’s brother had not cooperated in providing the password of temporary emails and certain keys used in fund transactions.
The ED also told the high court that certain conversations between the hacker’s brother and his father that were unearthed during investigations had revealed some Great Britain Pound were transferred to a Swiss account and the details of this were still under investigation.

The ED argued in the Court that the LOC to prevent Sudarshan Ramesh from leaving India was issued after investigations revealed that the hacker’s brother was planning to settle down permanently in the Netherlands. The ED said this would hamper ongoing investigations and that it would not be in the economic interest of India.

The high court referred to previous judgments of courts in India where it was held that national interest is paramount in similar cases involving individual interests and economic interests to rule that the ED’s move preventing Sudarshan Ramesh from leaving India in January did not violate Article 19 or 21 of the Constitution of India which protects individual liberties.

“It is for the petitioner to co-operate with investigations conducted by the third respondent (ED) and to convince the third respondent that he has no role to play in money laundering cases registered against his brother and request for withdrawal of LOC issued against him,” the Court said last week while rejecting Sudarshan Ramesh’s plea against the ED restrictions.

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The ED has questioned Srikrishna and several of his associates – including the kin of several politicians – in connection with the money laundering investigations over the last year.

The hacker Srikrishna has claimed in statements given to the Bengaluru police that he hacked into the British Virgin Islands-based Bitfinex crypto-currency exchange in the year 2015-16. The FBI and other US agencies are investigating the theft of 119,754 bitcoin (valued at $4.5 billion at present) from the Bitfinex exchange in 2016.

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In February this year, US agencies reported the detection of nearly $3.6 billion worth of the bitcoin stolen from the Bitfinex exchange in 2016 from two US nationals, Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan, after their arrest in New York. The US agencies have reported the recovery of 94,636 of 119,754 bitcoin stolen during the 2016 Bitfinex hack.

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The US probe found that email accounts created with an e-mail services provider in India were used in the initial stages to launder a portion of the 119,754 bitcoin stolen (worth $4.5 billion in February) from the Bitfinex exchange.

US officials have not found a link between the hacker, Srikrishna, and the investigations in the case against Morgan/Lichtenstein, sources familiar with the case in New York said.

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First published on: 25-06-2022 at 10:29:51 pm
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