Cheats use religion to dupe Bhopal
CBI gropes for evidence as charges fly
Sopore at war over dead
Buddha rushes to calm Keshpur
Lucknow rebellion rattles Sonia
Washington warns Pak against Chagai rerun

Bhopal, May 25 
Raees Ahmed Ansari put all the money he had squirrelled away over a lifetime in a company called Al Fahad, said to be named after Saudi King Fahd.

Tomorrow, on jumma bar, Ansari will gather with hundreds like him in the name of Allah to work out a strategy to recover the money that, they say, was taken from them invoking Islam.

Over 15,000 Muslim families here find themselves duped of about Rs 50 crore by three companies that acted somewhat like a bank with a difference. Islam does not allow interest payment, so they shared with depositors the profits from their business investments.

�I put all my life�s savings, my provident fund, golden handshake, personal savings, everything I had (which totalled Rs 8.45 lakh), and they vanished without a trace,� Ansari, a former employee of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, said. He opted for voluntary retirement from the government-owned company last year.

Al Fahad was paying an annual dividend of an incredible 30, even 40, per cent initially, but for the past five months investors haven�t heard anything of it or the other two companies � Al Falah and Alround Tejarati.

�They had no government permission or licence. They simply convinced us in the name of Islam and we trusted them,� Ansari said.

Police have arrested two people, Masood Ahmed Siddiqui, a religious leader, for being an agent of Al Fahd, and Colonel M.F. Jaman, for having connections with the same company. But both are now out on bail. When reached for comment, Siddiqui refused to speak.

Ansari said he was advised by a religious leader to invest his money in Al Fahd. �He told me that in Islam receiving money through bank interest is regarded haram ki kamai. But if I put my money in Al Fahad, the company would, in turn, invest in business and make me a partner. My earnings then would be halaka paisa,� Ansari said.

But religious heads themselves fell for the deception, which is not uncommon, but this is perhaps the only known instance where religion appears to have been used to gain people�s trust.

Habib Rehman, a nizam with a Bhopal masjid, is one of the learned religious leaders who has been defrauded. He admits to having advised people to invest their money in these companies. �I belived they were good, influential people. Al Fahad had shown me documents of contracts with the Delhi Municipal Corporation,� Rehman said.

He himself trusted his money with Al Fahad. His son pulled the entire family�s investments with the Unit Trust of India worth Rs 1.5 lakh out and deposited it in Al Fahad.

Al Fahad�s managing director, Hamud Siddiqui, has been absconding since January. He had floated the company with his brother Jawad, but they parted after about two years. Jawad then started Al Falah. Around the same time, the third � Alround Tejarati � appeared and is estimated to have collected investments of about Rs 8 crore.

Since early this year, nothing has been heard of any of them.

Threatening messages � in posters, pamphlets and even audio cassettes � have begun to circulate in Bhopal.

�Most of these threat notes say: �You have invested lakhs. What happens if the income-tax department is informed about it?� � Ansari said.

He added that he knows rich families that have invested Rs 35-40 lakh in these companies but have not gone to the police for fear of being asked where all the money came from. �Victims are now giving in to blackmail,� Ansari said.

�This will be a difficult fight,� conceded Mohammad Yunus, owner of a scooter workshop whose father invested Rs 6.5 lakh in two of these companies.

�We are meeting on Friday afternoon and something will be worked out. We will go to the CBI, CID, Human Rights Commission...these men will be punished,� he vowed.    

New Delhi, May 25 
After two days of discussions with Manoj Prabhakar, Navjyot Sidhu (the all-rounder�s room-mate during the Singer Cup in Colombo in 1994) and former cricket board chief Inderjit Singh Bindra, the CBI has admitted that it has no strong legal evidence to build up a case against Kapil Dev.

Sidhu, who, according to Manoj, was witness to the incident in his hotel room in Colombo, said nothing about having heard Kapil make the Rs 25-lakh �offer�.

The former India opener said very little of what had actually transpired in the room. Sidhu did not level any charges directly against Kapil, CBI sources said.

The CBI sources added that the bureau was still making preliminary inquiries and was nowhere near filing a case.

It appears that only Ravi Shastri has stood by Manoj, having admitted to the media in Mumbai that he was aware of Prabhakar�s charges against Kapil.

Surprisingly, Sunil Gavaskar, who has also been made a party to the charges by Manoj, said little during the day.

However, Prashant Vaidya, who occupied the room adjoining Prabhakar�s, today denied having any knowledge of the incident. In a signed statement in Nagpur, Vaidya expressed his shock and surprise for being drawn into the controversy.

�I have to categorically state that I am not aware of, nor have I witnessed any incident, as mentioned by Manoj Prabhakar appearing in the press today,� Vaidya stated.

CBI officials said today that whatever the media might feel, the disclosures as yet had not really pointed to a criminal case. They argued that all that they had with them were allegations substantiated with corroborative allegations.

Apart from Sidhu, the CBI has also questioned Ajit Wadekar, coach of the Indian team in 1994. The CBI will shortly examine others, including former skippers Mohammed Azharuddin, Gavaskar and Shastri.

Manoj disclosed that cricket board secretary Jaywant Lele had mentioned names of two more players who were involved in fixing matches. Manoj said Lele revealed the names when he met him in Baroda recently.

�When I met Lele in Baroda on May 6, he mentioned two more names, saying they were also involved,� Manoj said. But he refused to divulge the names and said he wanted Lele himself to disclose them. �I want to see first whether he comes out with the names,� he said.

Cricket board president A. C. Muthiah left it to the CBI to probe the allegations levelled by Manoj. �It is up to the CBI to find out the truth,� he said in Paris.

�It is now with the CBI. Let them find out the whole truth,� said Muthiah, who is in France as part of an Indian business delegation with Union commerce minister Murasoli Maran.

Muthiah said he was yet to get the full details of what Prabhakar had said and also refused to react when informed that the ex-all rounder had met the CBI.    

Srinagar, May 25 
Authorities stepped up security in Sopore after a protesting mob dug out bodies of six youth killed as infiltrators by the army in Kupwara district last week.

The bodies were exhumed yesterday by district authorities at Tangdhar in Kupwara, following massive protests in Sopore. Residents of Sopore alleged that the youth were killed in custody.

However, officials said the youth, having received arms training in Pakistan, were killed on the Line of Control (LoC) after they tried to sneak in. They said that the bodies were buried by residents of Tangdhar after the army handed them over to the local police last week.

As the news about the killing of the youths reached Sopore, life came to a grinding halt as locals held demonstrations, demanding the bodies of the six youths. An indefinite strike called by militant outfits has crippled life in the north Kashmir town for the past nearly a week.

Following mounting public pressure, the state government ordered the Kupwara administration to exhume the bodies. Senior district officials yesterday accompanied relatives of the killed youths to Tangdhar and the bodies were exhumed and brought to Sopore late last night.

Tension gripped the town as the bodies arrived. The crowds dispersed late in the night after it was announced that the bodies will be buried this morning.

However, fearing trouble, the district administration persuaded relatives to bury the bodies in the dead of night. Witnesses said there were visible torture marks on the bodies.

But this morning protesters dug out the bodies again and started a march with them.

Police and paramilitary forces swung into action. The police later took the bodies from the crowds and buried them yet again under tight security.

Strict security measures have been imposed on Sopore. No movement is allowed on the streets. Security was tightened this evening around the grave-yard where the bodies have been buried. A resident said no movement was being allowed in the tension ridden appletown. Chairman of the Islamic Students League Shakeel Ahmed Bakshi was arrested on his way to Sopore.    

Calcutta, May 25 
West Bengal deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya today moved to assuage public anger in Keshpur, where Saturday�s night-long violence between CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters claimed 11 lives.

Writers� Buildings sources said Bhattacharya has asked for a detailed report on police inaction from the Midnapore district administration.

Bhattacharya, the sources said, wanted to know why so many gun licences had been issued to Keshpur residents. He also directed the district magistrate and the inspector-general of police, Midnapore range, to convene an all-party meeting on the situation.

�We don�t consider Keshpur a law-and-order problem,� Bhattacharya said. �We intend to tackle it politically as the problems can�t be solved by administrative steps alone.��

Chief minister Jyoti Basu also held a meeting today with his deputy and senior officers to review the situation.

Bhattacharya said the situation in Keshpur had returned to normal and no further incidents had been reported. He said more forces, including the Rapid Action Force and armed police, would be despatched to the affected areas in a day or two.

The deputy chief minister said questions had been raised from different quarters over the role of police in tackling Saturday�s violence. �My intention is to get at the truth and take remedial steps to improve the situation,� he said.

The state government has noted with concern the large-scale use of licensed as well as illegal arms in the clashes which erupted there. �We are now thinking of new criteria for obtaining gun licences,� Bhattacharya said.

He said the government had tried to temporarily revoke the licences to prevent possible use of firearms. �But we had to stop our efforts midway following a high court order,� he said.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee�s decision to camp at Keshpur to personally oversee her party nominee�s campaign has prompted the CPM to send its heavyweights and ministers to the area.

Delhi warning

The Union home ministry today cautioned the West Bengal and Bihar governments to take �remedial�� steps to check armed political and inter-caste clashes, reports our special correspondent.

The home ministry is believed to have said that the political violence in Midnapore may degenerate into a bloodbath if the state police did not step in and put an end to the clashes.    

New Delhi, May 25 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is unhappy with her crisis managers in the wake of the no-holds-barred intra-party feud in Uttar Pradesh.

Facing a repeat of West Bengal when a defiant A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury had given her sleepless nights, Sonia is running out of ideas for Uttar Pradesh. Regional satraps Jitendra Prasada and Rajesh Pilot have raised the banner of revolt in the state, openly saying that the leadership has deviated from Congress ideology. The rebel leaders are also demanding a change �from top to bottom� in the party structure.

At a meeting with AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Sonia reportedly expressed her dismay over the party managers� failure to handle dissidence. Shinde is now being assisted by former Uttar Pradesh Governor Motilal Vora.

To neutralise the Prasada-Pilot effect, beleaguered Uttar Pradesh party chief Salman Khurshid has been asked to hold public meetings, while Congress Working Committee members have been directed to attend Khurshid�s meetings to emphasise that the high command is, after all, in command.

Sources said the leadership was not happy with the manner in which AICC general secretaries have been handling party affairs in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bengal, Punjab, Orissa and Maharashtra. If the downslide continues, Sonia may undertake a minor AICC reshuffle in the party-set up.

Shinde is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, while Prabha Rau is responsible for party matters in Delhi and Bengal. Orissa party affairs are dealt with by Ghulam Nabi Azad.

In Uttar Pradesh, where it is lagging behind the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress is divided into four factions. Supporters of N.D. Tiwari are hostile to both Prasada and Khurshid, while Captain Satish Sharma has set up his own camp with partymen from Amethi, Sultanpur and Rae Bareilly.

With organisational polls round the corner, all the factions are trying to control the 1300-odd PCC delegates and 162 AICC members who will have a decisive say in the election of the AICC president and CWC members respectively.

The Prasada-Pilot duo has a two-pronged strategy: to first pressure Sonia to oust Khurshid, failing which, to throw a leadership challenge at her. The Tiwari group wants Sonia to hand over the Uttar Pradesh unit to them on grounds of loyalty, a plea being made by Captain Sharma as well. However, Sonia is unwilling to remove Khurshid.    

Washington, May 25 
Taking no chances over reports that Pakistan may celebrate the second anniversary of its Chagai nuclear tests with yet another explosion, the US has warned Islamabad of �the serious consequences of another test for our bilateral relations�.

Philip Reeker, deputy spokesman of the US state department, said on Wednesday that reports about a new test in Chagai were not considered �highly credible� and clarified that these were not reports sent by US officials.

Reeker added: �We remain very concerned about proliferation issues in south Asia and elsewhere. Any other nuclear tests in south Asia could lead to further serious escalation of tensions in the region and would threaten to undermine global non-proliferation norms. We took the opportunity of the press reports to remind the Pakistani government of our concern about these things.�

It is expected that US under-secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Pickering, who is in Islamabad today, will take up the issue with Pakistani leaders, notwithstanding a categorical denial by Pakistan�s foreign office that there were any plans for a new test.

In Islamabad, Pickering will also discuss plans for a visit here by Pakistan�s foreign minister Abdus Sattar next month, when he will pursue the non-proliferation dialogue with US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott.

Although the US has warned Pakistan not to risk another nuclear test, there is general agreement here that rumours of fresh explosions in Chagai have been hyped by the intelligence community in Washington, which has been on the defensive ever since the Indian tests in Pokhran two years ago.

US satellites failed to pick up preparations for Pokhran-2 and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was severely pulled up subsequently both by the administration and on Capitol Hill for having totally failed to predict the Indian tests.

Having been put in the dock in 1998, the CIA no longer wants to take any chances. It is believed that rumours of a new test by Pakistan were provoked by heightened activity in Chagai.

In March, US satellites relayed pictures of a new road built around craters from the May 1998 tests leading to unspecified structures which were not seen in any photos shot in the last two years.

The Washington Post quoted John Pike, a defence expert, at the Federation of American scientists, as describing the hullaballoo about new Pakistani tests as �rumint - that is rumour intelligence�. He dismissed the reports: �There doesn�t appear to be an awful lot going on.�    


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