A gang involved in the hacking of the e-procurement portal of the Karnataka government, resulting in theft of Rs 11.5 crore, laundered the stolen money through an elaborate network, investigations by the cyber crime unit of the Karnataka CID and Enforcement Directorate have revealed.
The CID had earlier filed a chargesheet against hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, 25, four of his alleged close associates, and 11 others, in December over the hacking. The probe has found that funds were transferred to multiple bank accounts and the money made its way back to the gang via the hawala route.
A parallel money laundering probe by the ED had led to the seizure of Rs 1.43 crore as proceeds of the hacking. The ED has stated that the gang paid commissions to businessmen, to deposit the stolen funds in their accounts and facilitate cash transfers back to it.
The hacking of the e-procurement portal as well as allegedly of international Bitcoin exchanges by Srikrishna alias Sriki has been the subject of a major controversy in Karnataka, with the Congress accusing that several highly placed people in the BJP government protected the gang.
The hacking was discovered after officials at the e-procurement cell filed a complaint in August 2019 with the CID over theft of Rs 11.5 crore of deposits, with Rs 7.37 crore saved in the nick of time.
The CID and ED probe found that Srikrishna and alleged associates Suneesh Hegde, 36, Hemanth Mudappa, 33, and Prasidh Shetty, 26, set up an elaborate system for transfer and collection of the stolen funds.
In a “voluntary” statement to the CID following his arrest in 2020, Srikrishna had said he initially hacked and stole Rs 1.05 crore (on July 1, 2019) alone, and subsequently Rs 10.50 crore and nearly Rs 35 crore at the behest of Hegde, a civil contractor and businessman.
The CID and ED probe of the flow of money in the first hack of Rs 1.05 crore has revealed that the money was transferred to the account of a chips and cool drinks firm in Bulandshahr, UP, called Nimmi Enterprises run by a local man Vinit Kumar. The CID probe has found that the hacker Srikrishna was put in touch with Vinit Kumar, 31, by a New Delhi businessman, Sushil Chandra, 50.
According to Srikrishna’s statement, he exploited security loopholes in the e-procurement portal to gain access to funds. “I tested this multiple times and did a transaction of Rs 1.05 crore to an entity I met on an (online) forum whose name is Sushil,” he said, adding that he also gave 20 lakh via hawala to the driver of a Ricky Rai in Delhi.
As per an August 6, 2021, provisional attachment order issued by the ED for seizure of the proceeds of the crime, out of the Rs 40 lakh transferred to him, “Sushil Chandra handed over Rs 20 lakh to a Bitcoin trader for purchasing Bitcoins (for) Srikrishna alias Sriki”.
Out of the Rs 1.05 crore stolen in the first hack, the ED recovered Rs 30.76 lakh. The CID has named several people into whose accounts the money was allegedly routed, including Sushil Chandra.
In the case of the Rs 10.5 crore stolen on July 9, 2019, the money was tracked to a Nagpur-based NGO, Udaya Grama Vikas Samstha, and multiple firms. The two owners of the NGO, a person who identified the NGO account for laundering of the stolen funds and the six persons who allegedly arranged the hawala transfers to the hacking gang have all been chargesheeted.
Of this Rs 10.5 crore, the ED has recovered Rs 1.13 crore, with the funds allegedly transferred by the NGO in the guise of payments for wires and cables, ration and kirana, lentils, as well as kitchen and dinner sets.
According to the ED probe, Mumbai businessman Rajkumar Sanklecha took a commission of Rs 21 lakh to launder Rs 2.7 crore through his firm Vardhaman Wires and Cables; Manoj Asawa, the proprietor of Shree Salasar Steels, took Rs 14.70 lakh to launder Rs 2.1 crore through multiple firms; while Nagpur firm Abeer Steel received Rs 2.80 lakh to launder Rs 40 lakh.
Sanklecha has been named an accused in the CID chargesheet. The CID is still verifying various aspects of the case.