Skilled forgery, a little photo and document editing, and the right contacts was all it took for a cobbler and a small-time businessman from a slum in Govandi, in Mumbai, to help people accused of serious crimes walk free — for a fee.
According to a 10-month-long investigation by the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, Riyaz Ahmad Mushtak Ahmad Pathan alias Papa (35) and Muzaffar Dawood Kazi (38) led a gang that supplied people as personal sureties in court, with forged identity and employment documents, for men they had never met. Police said at least 300 people, arrested in cases ranging from murder to molestation, cheating to assault, in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, had used the gang’s services.
The probe began with the arrest of eight people outside the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court in Kala Ghoda in October last year. Among those caught were alleged ringleaders Pathan, a cobbler, and Kazi, a businessman.
Police then searched a rented flat in Chembur, which allegedly served as the base of operations, and claimed to have found duplicate rubber stamps, 78 forged ration cards, 92 blank forms for ration cards, 55 fake employee identity cards, 59 fake company payment slips, 12 photocopies of marksheets, eight letters from a sessions court to police inspectors for physical verification of surety, five forged physical verification reports in the name of police inspectors, certificates from schools and colleges, seven fake letterheads of companies and four fake school leaving certificates.
A chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch earlier this year details how Pathan and Kazi allegedly provided services to those unable to find relatives or friends willing to take the personal risk to bail them out.
Standing as a surety involves providing proof of residence and employment and, most dauntingly, appearing before a magistrate or court staffer to answer questions about your relationship with the accused. Once a surety submits copies of Aadhaar, PAN and ration cards, the court directs the local police station to verify the residential address and employment details, before approving the application and granting bail.
Pathan and Kazi are alleged to hijacked the whole process — forging letters from the police to court claiming that the address had been verified, and from the food, civil supplies and consumer protection department stating that the ration card was genuine.
The chargesheet offers illustrations of how the nexus operated undetected in busy courtrooms across the city. A witness whose cousin was arrested last year during a raid at a brothel in Grant Road told police that his lawyer had put him in touch with another arrested accused,