On October 18, 2017, at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Colaba, Amit Lakhanpal held a press conference for his cyrptocurrency Money Trade Coin (MTC), an event hosted by actor Lara Dutta. Its launch in Dubai had been attended by actors Govinda and Raza Murad. The flamboyance of ‘Dr’ Lakhanpal, bedecked in heavy gold jewellery, was hard to miss.
Nearly seven months later, the Thane police registered an FIR against Lakhanpal along with three others for cheating. While one person Taha Kazi (26) — who gave the technical backing to Lakhanpal’s venture — was arrested, the others are on the run. Lakhanpal is currently in Dubai, the police said.
According to the Thane police, people lost nearly Rs 500 crore invested in MTC. Many people who invested money could not withdraw it later. Later, when many investors felt this was a con, they registered an FIR. An officer said that they have found at least 45,000 people had downloaded the MTC app while at least 10, 000 people had invested money.
According to the police, it was the carefully built image of Lakhanpal — sound financial backing, knowledgeable about cryptocurrency and rubbing shoulders with celebrities — that made people believe him. According to the police, Lakhanpal had only cleared Class VIII. Lakhanpal, who spoke to The Indian Express from Dubai, claimed he had completed Class X. “I have also done an online diploma from the University of Jamaica and a three-month doctorate in blockchain from a university in Auckland. Hence I use the word ‘Dr’,” he said. A senior officer from Thane police claimed that they have found electronic exchanges with Kazi in which Lakhanpal asked him to find an institution that would issue a doctorate degree against a payment.
An officer said, “He was only into construction business as late as 2017. They had several property expos with media houses where they would invite celebrities. Since he was one of the financers, he would get a photograph clicked with the celebs and then put it up in his office. He got into cryptocurrency only last year after his friends approached him.”
About eight years back, Lakhanpal would move from his Chembur residence to Airoli to a sprawling 16th-floor apartment at Kshitij Tower at Palm Beach Road overlooking the Thane creek that was eventually raided by the Thane police. He resided there with his mother, wife and two-year-old daughter.
“Earlier I was into real estate. Around December 2016, a month after demonetisation, police sub-inspector Digamber Jangle told me that bitcoin was the future and introduced me to a former Director General of Police of Maharashtra. I invested in bitcoin. However, I suffered losses of Rs 2.5 crore. I realised it was a scam and decided to start my own cryptocurrency that would adhere to all norms,” the creator of MTC said.
As per police, Lakhanpal has around 11 companies, some of them located outside India. “Some of the companies are registered in UK via post,” a senior officer said. The way he dressed up, wearing a lot of gold, along with the high-end cars he used, reassured investors that “Dr Lakhanpal knew what he was doing”. The ‘high end’ Lamborghini seized by the Thane police eventually turned out to be a DC Avanti.
“He also wrote a book on cryptocurrency, even though he himself had learnt about it a year back,” an officer said. Lakhanpal also had a cover feature on himself in self-published magazine titled ‘biography’ in addition to advertorials masquerading as articles in several well-respected international magazines.
Defending himself, Lakhanpal, said, “Several people have also made money investing in MTC. I had written to several government departments before launching the coin. My only mistake was using the Multi Level Marketing (MLM) system and agents started pocketing the money from people as I would be travelling quite a bit.”
Lakhanpal also blames an unlikely group for his downfall: ‘YouTubers’. “At one point, we were like the kings of cryptocurrency. Anyone using our name was bound to succeed. So a lot of these YouTubers started putting out negative things against us.” He added, “The Thane police too has made this into a 500-crore balloon. Our total business was only worth Rs 60 crore.”