A tip-off about elusive underworld don Ravi Suliya Pujari, 50, being a partner in a restaurant chain called ‘Namaste India’ in several west African countries set the police on the trail of the gangster six months ago, and eventually led to his arrest in Senegal on January 19, according to Karnataka Police.
Karnataka Police has now set in motion the process for extradition of Pujari, with the help of the Central government, to stand trial, primarily in a 2007 case where his shooters had killed two employees of Shabnam Developers, after the Bengaluru-based real estate agency’s owner resisted his extortion attempts.
There are 96 other extortion cases against Pujari in Karnataka, of them 39 in Bengaluru and 36 in Mangalore.
“Ravi Pujari’s identity has been established by the criminal justice police of Dakar, Senegal, and confirmed to Indian authorities based on the relevant documents that were provided,’’ Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) Amar Kumar Pandey said on Friday.
Pandey played a central role in locating Pujari with the help of Indian foreign officials in west Africa and Senegalese officials.
Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said Friday he had directed state police officials to locate Pujari and bring him to book. Kumaraswamy said the Indian ambassador to Senegal, Rajeev Kumar, played a key role in tracing Pujari.
According to Karnataka Police officials, they first picked up Pujari’s trail last year in the west African nation Burkina Faso, where the gangster was reportedly partnering a few Indian associates in a restaurant business. The police found that Pujari, who lived under the identity of Antony Fernandez — a Burkina Faso national and businessman — had built an image for himself as a philanthropist and was even featured in the local media for his purported charitable work. While trying to track him down in Burkina Faso with the help of foreign officials, the police found Pujari had moved to Senegal.
On December 19, 2018, Indian authorities reportedly picked up Pujari’s trail again in Dakar, Senegal, and alerted Indian foreign officials there. Indian officials in turn contacted Senegal’s interior minister and the office of the country’s President. Authorities in Dakar found Pujari at a cricket event a few weeks ago and alerted Indian officials to prepare necessary documents for the arrest of the man masquerading as Antony Fernandez, police officials here said.
Pujari was arrested on January 19, when he went to a barber shop in Dakar, Karnataka Police officials said.
According to an officer, tracking Pujari proved to be a difficult task since the gangster always took the precaution of using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for his communication with associates, including business associates in countries where he operated. When Pujari made extortion calls, the call records on the victim’s phone would show the location in countries in the Pacific region, western Europe and Africa, police sources said.
In two different cases of extortion in Mangalore — Pujari comes from this region — he has been sentenced to life imprisonment and a seven-year jail term. The most recent high-profile case in which Pujari was linked was shooting at a beauty parlour run by actress Leena Maria Paul in Kochi on December 15, 2018.
The Karnataka government has asked ADGP Pandey to complete the diplomatic formalities needed for Pujari’s extradition from Senegal.
Pujari’s detention is the second major operation carried out by Karnataka Police in recent years to locate and extradite gangsters based abroad.
In 2015, notorious underworld operative Bannanje Raja, wanted in more than 40 criminal cases, including the December 2013 murder of a BJP leader and businessman in coastal Karnataka region of Karwar, was located in Morocco and extradited to India. Raja was a long-time associate of Muthappa Rai, a former underworld operative from Mangalore, who was arrested in Dubai and extradited in 2001.
Rai was subsequently exonerated in all cases against him.