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A multi-storeyed fraud: Pune building sold, bought, mortgaged about 20 times a year; owners clueless

Fake sellers and buyers, forged Aadhaar cards and an FIR against the original owners – how a bizarre web of deceit and fraud led to multiple transfer of ownerships of a four-storeyed building

In November, the owners decided to sell their entire property for Rs 3.4 crore to a person who had paid them an advance amount of Rs 37.5 lakh. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

A four-storeyed residential property in Pune was bought, sold or mortgaged about 20 times in the last one year, with the original owners entirely in the dark about the fraudulent transactions carried out in their names.

The building, in the Kondhwa area of Pune, is owned by four women — Kiran Chaddha, Suman Khandagale, Niru Gupta, and Anjali Gupta — who purchased it jointly in 1994. They redeveloped the property in 2005 and constructed a four-storeyed residential building that they named ‘Nandanvan’. In May last year, they approached a few real-estate agents to sell this building and shared their property documents with them.

This is where the story begins, stitched together by a bizarre web of deceit and fraud involving fake buyers and sellers and forged Aadhaar cards.

Fake sellers, buyers

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In their statement to police, the owners said that nearly 100 people, claiming to be potential buyers, real-estate agents, and bank officials, visited them in the weeks after they put their property up for sale.

The fraudulent deals began happening soon thereafter. Police said the fraud involved unidentified women posing as owners of the property – while the Aadhaar cards they submitted had the names of the real owners, the photographs on the card were of the alleged fraudsters.

The first transaction happened on July 1 last year, when the first floor of the property was sold to a couple who identified themselves as Madhavi Bokefode and Santosh Bokefode for Rs 1 crore.

The building, in the Kondhwa area of Pune, is owned by four women — Kiran Chaddha, Suman Khandagale, Niru Gupta, and Anjali Gupta — who purchased it jointly in 1994. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

Police and government officials are yet to ascertain the identity of the Bokefodes, while it is suspected said these could be fake names. It is also not clear if money actually changed hands between the ‘seller’ and ‘buyers’, or if the sale was only on paper. Police have not yet found any record of this couple mortgaging their property.

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The property is known to have been mortgaged at least three times with different banks, and loans of about Rs 2.35 crore in all were granted. The banks who granted the loans — Cosmos Bank and Bank of Maharashtra — have now ordered vigilance inquiries.

The alleged imposters paid at least Rs 18.72 lakh towards government stamp duties and Rs 90,000 in registration fee for the three different mortgage deeds.

Two of the three mortgage deeds are in the names of ‘Vishal Gorde’, who ‘bought’ two floors in the building in separate transactions and mortgaged one floor each to Bank of Maharashtra and Cosmos Bank. Gorde bought the first floor of the building for Rs 96 lakh, and, on February 24, the day he got it registered in his name, managed to mortgage it to Cosmos Bank for Rs 69.87 lakh. He bought another floor for Rs 1.2 crore and raised a loan of Rs 96 lakh from Bank of Maharashtra.

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The third mortgage deed was entered into by a couple named ‘Anil Agrawal’ and ‘Sunita Anil Agrawal’, who, according to their registration papers, bought one of the floors for Rs 96 lakh, and took a loan of Rs 70 lakh against it from Cosmos Bank.

Police have so far not ascertained the identities of Vishal Gorde, and the Agarwals.

“Our bank has been cheated. Our vigilance team found this fraud and we have reported it to the authorities concerned. There seems to be a group of racketeers, including dummy owners and fraud buyers, who mortgaged the property to the bank and are now untraceable,” Milind Kale, chairman of Cosmos Bank, told The Indian Express.

Last transaction on July 11 this year

The multiple changes in ownerships have all been registered at local Sub-Registrar Offices (SROs) in different areas of Pune, with all taxes duly paid. The valuation of the floors varies in the transactions, with one particular ‘deal’ struck at Rs 2.4 crore. Though police are still in the early stages of investigation, they said the fraud seems to have been committed to raise loans against this property from banks.

The Indian Express has seen registration documents of 22 transactions related to this property, all carried out between July 2021 and July 2022. Of the 22, two registrations were carried out at SRO Haveli-2, three at SRO Haveli-3, and 17 at SRO Haveli-23. Different city survey (CTS) numbers are mentioned on the transactions on the same property.

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Seven of these are ‘assignment’ deeds, and five are ‘agreement to sale’. In addition, there are three ‘mortgage’ deeds, two ‘conveyance’ deeds, two deeds of declaration, one ‘apartment’ deed, one ‘sale’ deed, and one ‘correction’ deed. These documents represent different kinds of, or various stages in, transfer of ownership of a property.

The scam came to light on August 4, 2022, when a property lawyer alerted a sub-registrar, Dattatrya Satbhai, in whose office two of the fraudulent registrations were made. “I went through the documents and found that two fraudulent transactions amounting to Rs 3.7 crore were done using fake documents. But by the time I informed the police, the lawyer who had turned up to inform me had fled from my office,” said Satbhai, who filed an FIR of cheating and forgery at Pune’s Market Yard police station.

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Senior police inspector Anagha Deshpande of theMarket Yard Police Station, where the FIR was registered, said, “The forged Aadhaar cards used in the crime are in Hindi and have names of real owners, but photographs of dummies… The probe is on to trace these fraudsters and their accomplices, including real-estate agents.”

The last known transaction took place on July 11 this year, when one of the floors was ‘sold’ for Rs 1.2 crore. Police sources said there could be more transactions related to this property than the 22 documents that have been found till now.

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Also, police suspect the fraudsters may have spread their net wider by registering fake transactions on other properties in the city.

The twist: Owners named in FIR

The Indian Express spoke to two of the four owners of the property, who said they were unaware of the fake transactions done in their names and that they got to know about it only after the police called them for an inquiry. The FIR names the four women as accused in the case.

When asked why the owners had been named in the FIR, sub-registrar Satbhai, who filed the complaint naming the four, said the documents of the fraudulent transactions registered in his office had names of the four women as sellers, so he named them. During their probe, police say, they found that the four owners were unaware of the fraud.

Meanwhile, last year, the owners of the building found a genuine buyer and decided to sell their entire property for Rs 3.4 crore. This deal was finalised in November 2021. This buyer paid an initial amount of Rs 37.5 lakh, but the remaining payments have not yet been made, they told the police.

When asked if there had been a lapse in the verification of documents and Aadhaar numbers, district Joint Registrar Anil Parkhe said, “While sub-registrar offices follow a laid-down procedure of verifying Aadhaar details during registration of documents, there could be issues if the server is down or if there are technical problems.” Asked specifically about the Kondhwa property scam, Parkhe said he was unaware of the details and would look into the matter.

Yogesh Makane, a Pune-based property lawyer, said the scam points to the connivance of officials at multiple levels.

“If the simple process of verifying Aadhaar had been followed by the offices of the sub-registrars, the impersonation would have been caught. But because this (fraud) has happened multiple times, and in different sub-registrar offices, the possibility of connivance is very strong,” Makane said.

Police said they were investigating the possibility of involvement of government and bank officials.

A larger scam?

Just a few days after the probe into the Kondhwa building began, a similar case involving another bungalow in the same area has come to light – a property that was sold and mortgaged in three different transactions over the last year and a half.

The owner of this property, a NRI couple based in the United States, has filed a complaint with the Economic Offences Wing of the Pune Police. Initial investigations have revealed that in this case, the fraudsters even managed to open and operate bank accounts in the name of the owner.

“We gave our property papers to some real estate agents as we wanted to sell it. But we have now come to know that people impersonating us have sold our property to a party in March 2021 for Rs 4.6 crore. Again, in November 2021, they sold our property to another party. In June 2022, our property was mortgaged to a bank. We wonder how banks provided these huge loans for these fake property deals without verifying documents… We hope the racketeers are arrested soon,” said the owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the possibility of a larger racket of fake property transactions, Bhagyashree Navtake, Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the Economic Offences Wing, said a similar case was cracked about a year ago, and the police were investigating the new cases.

First published on: 13-09-2022 at 07:20:12 pm
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