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7 arrested for cheating Serum Institute of India of Rs 1 crore, mastermind still at large

The police said SII director Satish Deshpande received a WhatsApp message from a number having the profile of its chief executive officer (CEO) Adar Poonawalla with instructions to transfer money to a few bank accounts.

Serum Institute of India's Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla (File Photo)

The Pune city police arrested seven persons from different parts of the country, including a software engineer and a prominent bank employee, for their alleged involvement in cheating the Serum Institute of India (SII) of Rs 1 crore in a case of cyber fraud.

The police have identified the accused as Rajivkumar Shivaji Prasad, Chandrabhushan Anand Singh and Kanhaiya Kumar Sambhu Mahto from Bihar, Ravindra Kumar Patel of Uttar Pradesh, Rabi Kaushalprasad Gupta and Yasir Nazim Khan of Madhya Pradesh and Prasad Satyanarayan Lobudu of Andhra Pradesh.

The police said SII director Satish Deshpande received a WhatsApp message from a number having the profile of its chief executive officer (CEO) Adar Poonawalla with instructions to transfer money to a few bank accounts.

Deshpande believed the message was actually forwarded to him by Poonawalla. So, he carried out further action and soon, an amount of Rs 1,01,01,554 was transferred from the SII’s bank account to those bank accounts. The incident took place between 1.35 pm on September 7 and 2.30 pm on September 8.

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But the company officials later came to know that Poonawalla had not sent any such message. So, on September 9, the company’s finance manager Sagar Kittur lodged a first information report (FIR) at the Bundgarden police station.

The police then booked the unidentified fraudsters under Indian Penal Code sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 34 (common intention) and relevant sections of the Information Technology Act.

Investigation by a police team headed by inspector Ashvini Satpute revealed that the company’s money was transferred to about 50 bank accounts in different states. It was also known that the money received in some of these bank accounts was further transferred to other bank accounts. The police gathered information about all the bank accounts and managed to freeze Rs 13 lakh.

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Meanwhile, based on inputs received from the cyber and technical investigation done by the police, they zeroed in on a few suspects involved in the crime and started making arrests.

“First arrest was of Chandrabhushan Singh from Bihar on November 7, 2022. During further investigation, we arrested six more persons,” said inspector Satpute.

During a press conference Friday, deputy commissioner of police Smartana Patil said, “Accused Prasad Lobudu is a software engineer and holds a B Tech degree. Yasir Khan is currently pursuing B Tech. Accused Rabi Gupta is a science graduate and works at a prominent private bank. The main accused is yet to be arrested. More people are involved in this case. Further investigation is on.”

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The police said one of the arrested accused got the bank accounts of the other accused on a basis of commission for transferring the proceeds of the cyber fraud. “Some accused are first beneficiaries as the money was transferred into their bank accounts. While some are secondary beneficiaries who got money in their bank accounts from the first beneficiaries,” the police said.

Replying to questions raised by the media, the police said they suspect that masterminds in this crime may have got SII director Deshpande’s phone number from a website.

SII is an Indian biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals company and is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. It produces Covishield, which has been the major Covid-19 vaccine in use in India.

A probe is on to know how the entire crime was planned. “As the main accused is yet to be arrested, more information cannot be shared at this stage,” said senior police inspector Pratap Mankar.

Meanwhile, a probe also revealed that some of the accused in this case earlier committed similar crimes and duped a CRPF officer from Mumbai of Rs 18 lakh and an Agra-based person of Rs 19 lakh.

First published on: 25-11-2022 at 19:10 IST
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