The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tandoori chicken in ‘jail’

Mumbai, Nov. 8: The sensational goings on are not part of a Hollywood thriller. Instead, they are a fallout of investigations into the Rs 3,000-crore fake stamp paper scam which has shaken the elite Mumbai crime branch.

It has come to light that Abdul Karim Telgi, who once worked as a vendor near a railway station, had been 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, who is now rumoured to be worth Rs 1,700 crore and has 48 bank accounts, had “bought” many officers in the Mumbai crime branch as well as politicians in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

In January this year, when Telgi was brought to Mumbai for questioning, he stayed at a luxury hotel while in “custody”. He was found to be using the mobile phones of crime branch officials, getting them to order tandoori chicken and mutton biryani for him; Telgi would also get drunk with the officials.

“It is unbelievable, this Telgi story,’’ retired super cop Julio Ribeiro said recently. “Look what it has done to the reputation of the Mumbai police force. Heads must roll and soon.’’

When Telgi tired of his hotel “custody”, he would shift to his upmarket Cuffe Parade house. Corrupt crime branch cops hovered around him all the while, shielding him from public glare.

And why not' Sources in the investigation team say Telgi must have “fed’’ cops nearly Rs 5 crore to ensure he got away lightly with his crimes and was well-looked after.

No one quite knows how or when the Telgi scam will play out, but it is certain that the careers and reputation of some of the top cops in Maharashtra will be in tatters before the case is resolved. Telgi had it good for a decade, perhaps a bit too good. This was chiefly due to the benevolence of those charged with prosecuting him.

But those who regard the police as functioning to protect criminals may yet be proved wrong. Bombay High Court has stepped into the frame and is anxious to get to the bottom of the scam.

The court recently ordered a special investigation team set up to probe the scam to submit a report on the police-criminal nexus. It has also asked the team to investigate the role of Mumbai police commissioner Ranjit Singh Sharma.

The high 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.

Cops have begun to fall like ninepins: an assistant commissioner of police, Mohammad Mulani, has already been suspended for protecting Telgi. Sreedhar Vagal, joint commissioner of police (intelligence), was arrested yesterday under the tough Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act for his role in the scam. He is the seniormost cop to be arrested.

Sharma was grilled today about his links with Telgi; Subhash Malhotra, former director-general of police, will be questioned soon.

The crackdown does not end there. Pradeep Sawant, deputy commissioner of police (crime detection), was shunted to an unimportant post in the special branch on Thursday. It is believed his arrest is imminent.

Six police officers have been arrested and many other policemen suspended, strengthening suspicions that Telgi had half of the Mumbai crime branch on his payroll.

Sources in the investigation team say cops “from top to bottom’’ were working to save Telgi. It has been revealed that an IPS officer was paid Rs 76 lakh to go soft on the prime accused in the scam. Mulani is believed to have demanded Rs 15 lakh to delete the name of Telgi’s wife from a chargesheet. Other officers of the Dharavi crime unit were paid Rs 15 lakh.

Revelations like these have led the crime branch to consider setting up a team of “honest and reliable” police officers to keep tabs on their corrupt colleagues.

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