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Tracked by Chinese firm: Over 6,000 accused of financial crime, terrorism, IPL betting, narcotics, smuggling, big to small

Among the high-profile entries being tracked are income-tax evasion cases against 19 companies founded by friends or relatives of former Satyam Group chairman Ramalinga Raju; the Vyapam scam involving Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar , Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2020 1:15:27 pm
The Indian Express investigation, China is Watching, was published in September.

From the accused in the AgustaWestland bribery case to a ring of juveniles who stole mobile phones, hundreds accused of financial crime, corruption, terror, organised crime, smuggling of narcotics, gold and wildlife form a significant chunk, as many as 6,000, of the Indian individuals monitored by Zhenhua Data, an investigation by The Indian Express has revealed.

Among the high-profile entries logged in Zhenhua’s Overseas Key Individual DataBase (OKIDB) are income-tax evasion cases against 19 companies founded by friends or relatives of former Satyam Group chairman Ramalinga Raju; the fodder scam corruption scandal where officials and suppliers conspired to fraudulently drain the Jharkhand treasury; and the Vyapam scam involving Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, whose Sky Light Hospitality Private Limited (now LLP) is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate; former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who was accused of illegally denotifying a prime plot to benefit his relatives, and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, who was named in a red corner notice in a money laundering case, are also mentioned in the database.

The ambit of monitoring financial crime extends to cases of corruption, bribery and fraud.

Also on the list are over 500 entities restrained for various reasons by market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The granular data includes even those arrested for exchanging demonetised banknotes.

READ | China surveillance: Key PMO officers, state Chief Secys, DGPs among 370-plus officials tracked

Explained a cybersecurity expert who has worked with multiple Indian government agencies: “We are looking at a crime map that marks the fault lines in an open democratic system. Much of it may seem to have no revelatory value but OSINT (open-source intelligence) needs a massive data analytic framework leading to a fusion centre where the leads are filtered and enriched with other feeds. That explains the staggering range of names on the list and their voluminous records,. The outcome can then be potentially manipulated to meet different ends — from asset cultivation and interference in social functioning to undermining or even delegitimising institutions.”

The crime list logs over 100 cases of terror. These include fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, late Tiger Memon; members of Jamat-ul-Mujaheedin of Bangladesh (JMB) investigated by the NIA in the 2014 Burdwan blast case; operatives of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) held in Chhattisgarh in 2013 in connection with 28 cases of kidnapping, murder, looting, arson and extortion; and militants of Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) arrested in Assam in 2015 with firearms and ammunition.

Since the mid-1990s, Indian intelligence and security agencies detected multiple gun-running rackets smuggling illegally-procured consignments of China-made weapons to India through the Sino-Burmese border and then via Northern Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Significantly, OKIDB has over 40 bookmakers accused of betting and spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the 2015 Cricket World Cup. What perhaps explains the close watch on the IPL is the amount of Chinese investment in the tournament. Chinese mobile phone makers Vivo acquired the title sponsorship rights for the IPL in 2018 for Rs 2,199 crore for five years. While ongoing border issues forced Vivo to exit the deal last month, its replacement fantasy sports firm Dream 11 is part-owned by Chinese technology major Tencent.

Explained: The nature of the cyber security threat from China

The database also focuses on other specific areas of Chinese interest such as trafficking narcotics, gold, and wildlife. Due to its proximity to the Golden Triangle on its southwestern border, contraband narcotics has always been a prime concern for China. Traditionally, China and India have been the world’s major producers of opioid and ephedrine extracted from plants.

In recent years, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has busted multiple China-based syndicates involved in smuggling gold. China remains a major destination for contraband wildlife sourced from the Indian wild. Traditionally, red sanders (sandalwood), big cat derivatives, and ivory have been in high demand.

The database has granular details of hundreds of cases where arrests were made for trafficking drugs and gold, besides those charged with poaching and smuggling wildlife, across India. These include:

* Six arrested in Mumbai in December 2013 on suspicion of trafficking 1.2 tonnes of ketamine worth an estimated Rs 118 crore.

* Personal security staff of an IPS officer during his tenure in Chandigarh convicted in 2013 for possessing 12 kg heroin worth Rs 60 crore.

* Customs officer charged in connection with an attempt to smuggle 20 kg of gold, worth approximately Rs 6 crore, into India through Kochi airport in 2013.

* A Kotdwar resident arrested in 2012 for allegedly smuggling 67 kg of elephant tusks worth Rs 50 lakh in the black market.

The database includes illegal organ donations that were reported from hospitals in Amritsar, Delhi, Mumbai, Gurugram and Nalgonda. Significantly, China and India are among the most popular destinations for international patients seeking organ transplants.

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