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Pune Police trace 237 bitcoins siphoned off by cyber experts while probing crypto fraud

As of Thursday, one bitcoin was valued at around Rs 35 lakh, one bitcoin cash unit at around 29 thousand and one etherium unit at Rs 2.5 lakh.

The police said that they were also probing a discrepancy of 900 bitcoins — equivalent to over Rs 320 crore today. (Representational Photo)

Pune Police have traced 237 bitcoins siphoned off by the two cyber experts who were arrested for stealing cryptocurrency while helping the cops in two cases in 2018. The police said that they were also investigating a discrepancy of 900 bitcoins in the reports submitted by other accused in the case.

After a meticulous probe that had started in April 2021, the Pune City police’s cybercrime cell had, on March 12, arrested two experts — Pankaj Ghode (38) and Ravindranath Patil (45) and an ex-IPS officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Ghode and Patil had helped a Special Investigation team of the Pune police during the probe of two multimillion-dollar bitcoin ponzi scheme cases in 2018.

It was revealed that Ghode and Patil diverted a significant chunk of cryptocurrency funds from the wallets used by the accused in the 2018 cases to their own and their accomplices’ wallets. The two are alleged to have prepared forged screenshots of the blockchain wallets to funnel the cryptocurrency. From the 17 accused arrested in the 2018 case, the Pune police, had, with the help of Ghode and Patil, seized 241.46 bitcoins, 452 bitcoin cash units and 94 ethereum units.

As of Thursday, one bitcoin was valued at around Rs 35 lakh, one bitcoin cash unit at around 29 thousand and one etherium unit at Rs 2.5 lakh.

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An official who is part of the present investigation team said, “We have been able to trace as many 237 bitcoins to the wallets linked to Patil, equivalent to worth over Rs 84 crore. Prima facie, this chunk of cryptocurrency is from what was seized from the accused in the 2018 cases. Probe suggests that Patil was also involved in crypto trading. To date, we have seized Rs 6 crore worth of cryptocurrencies, such as Etherium, Ripple and four others. We are also probing a discrepancy of 900 bitcoins — equivalent to over Rs 320 crore today — in the reports submitted by Ghode at the time of the 2018 investigation.”

Meanwhile, a court in Pune on Wednesday rejected the anticipatory bail application of the brother and wife of Patil in connection with the ongoing investigation.

In 2018, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) from the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Pune Police investigated two of the several offences linked to a cryptocurrency ponzi scheme registered in the country at the time. Among a total of 17 persons arrested by the Pune Police were the mastermind Amit and Vivek Bharadwaj. The brothers, through their multiple companies, are alleged to have cheated thousands of people across India by promising high returns on cryptocurrency investments. Amit Bharadwaj was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2019 and is said to have died of an illness earlier this year. At one point in time, the amount linked to cases against Bharadwaj and accomplices was pegged at 87,000 bitcoins, equivalent to over Rs 31,000 crore today.

Amit Bharadwaj and his accomplices were booked in multiple cases by the police across India and also faced money laundering charges brought by the Enforcement Directorate. Two of these cases were registered by Pune City police. The SIT had sought help from Ghode and Patil at the time.

Officials have said that Patil is an Indian Police Service officer of the 2004 batch, Jammu and Kashmir cadre, and had left the service a couple of years after joining it. Since then, he had been working as a cybercrime expert and has assisted various police entities and investigating agencies in their probes. He has also helped train police personnel on various aspects of crimes related to cryptocurrency in the recent past. Ghode has also worked as a cyber expert and operated multiple firms, including some based abroad, an official said.

Another officer who is part of the present investigation informed: “We have also questioned the police officers who conducted the probe in 2018 cases and others who supervised them. We are looking at possible oversight, or even more collusion on the part of some of these officers that helped Patil and Ghode. We hope to unearth a wider conspiracy that involves an elaborate money laundering web.”

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