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Mumbai top cop held in stamp scam

Mumbai, Nov. 7: Sreedhar Vagal, joint commissioner of police (intelligence), was today arrested under the tough Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act for his alleged role in the Rs 3,000-crore fake stamp paper scam. The senior officer is believed to have shielded prime accused Abdul Karim Telgi.

Vagal is the senior-most police officer to be arrested, and today’s developments have left the elite Mumbai crime branch in shock and fear. Insiders in the department believe more skeletons will soon tumble out, for Telgi — currently lodged in a Bangalore jail — had links with a number of officers.

Vagal, a 1976 batch IPS officer, is the sixth police officer and the 59th accused to be arrested in connection with the scam that involves nine states. He was arrested by the special investigation team set up recently to probe the scam and the police-criminal nexus that helped it flourish.

Vagal — who had been questioned intensively over the last two days — has been booked under Section 24 of the Maharashtra crime act. The provision is usually reserved for underworld dons and contract killers.

“My god, who next'’’ a senior IPS officer said on learning of the arrest of Vagal, who was chief of the crime branch when Telgi was expanding his empire.

Vagal was taken today to Pune, the main theatre of Telgi’s illegal activities. He will be produced before a Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court soon.

The arrest comes a day after Pradeep Sawant, deputy commissioner of police (crime detection), was shunted to an unimportant post in the special branch. Sawant’s role in the stamp-paper scam is being probed concurrently and it is rumoured that his arrest is imminent.

The rot doesn’t end there. Bombay High Court recently ordered the investigation team to submit a report on the police-criminal nexus and probe the role of Mumbai police commissioner R.S. Sharma in the scam.

The court wants the report on Sharma to be filed before he retires on November 30 — the officer was Pune commissioner at the time the scam came to light. The probe team has been given till November 12 to submit the report.

The team is likely to question former director-general of police Subhash Malhotra in the next few days.

In what is one of India’s biggest scams, Telgi was running his parallel stamp business for nearly a decade. His empire spread across nine states and he sold everything from judicial stamp papers, revenue stamps, foreign bills, insurance bills and stamps in the Re 1 to Rs 5,000 range.

Investigations have revealed that Telgi had “bought’’ many officers in the Mumbai crime branch as well as politicians in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Two MLAs — one from Andhra Pradesh and another from Dhule, Maharashtra — are already in jail for conniving with Telgi.

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