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Karnataka: Bitcoin heat on Basavaraj Bommai

The scam dates back to November 2020 when a city-based techie Sri Krishna was held along with his friend Robin Khandelwal for hacking the e-procurement portal
Basavaraj Bommai.
Basavaraj Bommai.
File photo

Our Special Correspondent   |   Bangalore   |   Published 16.11.21, 02:20 AM

A year-old case related to hacking cryptocurrency exchanges, online poker websites and the state government’s e-procurement portal has come back to bite the BJP government with the Opposition waiting for answers to its questions that boxed chief minister Basavaraj Bommai in a tight corner.

While only the hacking of the state e-procurement portal that allegedly compromised bid processes supposed to be held in total secrecy is directly related to Karnataka, the rest of the digital exploits of the hacker and his friends span several locations from The Netherlands to some global tax havens.

The ‘Bitcoin scam’ dates back to November 2020 when a city-based techie Sri Krishna, now 26, was arrested along with his friend Robin Khandelwal for hacking the e-procurement portal.

His subsequent confessions about hacking cryptocurrency exchanges and online gaming sites led to four more cases in which he was arrested. He was released on bail in April 2021 after spending some 100 days in custody.

Congress lawmaker and former IT minister Priyank Kharge took the lead in seeking a detailed investigation in the matter alleging serious discrepancies in the investigation.

“The police have contradicted themselves by first saying in January that Bitcoins worth Rs 9 crore were seized from the accused and now saying they have not recovered any,” Kharge told The Telegraph on Monday.

 “It looks like the case is being botched up and the investigation is not headed to uncover, but to cover up the truth. Suddenly there seems to be no crime at all,” he said, urging Bommai to explain since he was home minister when the alleged crime unfolded.

“The government must explain why the case was not referred to the ED, CBI, or Interpol soon after the arrest,” he said. “It was the ED that took the initiative to seek details of the case based on media reports in February. The police replied the following month, while the commissioner of police then wrote to the Interpol liaison officer in April. All this smacks of a cover-up,” said Kharge.

The issue had made Rahul Gandhi tweet: “Bitcoin scam is big. But the Bitcoin scam cover-up is much bigger. Because it has to cover up someone’s fake big ego.”

Kharge noted how the accused had confessed to hacking the state’s e-procurement portal that seems to have compromised the bid process, apart from hacking international cryptocurrency exchanges and online gaming platforms.

In his voluntary statement made before the metropolitan magistrate in December, Krishna — known to his friends as Sriki — confessed to having been an active participant in the ‘dark web.’

Dark web or deep web is a collection of hidden websites accessible only with special web browsers aimed at keeping online activities extremely private. This can be used for legal or illegal activities.

Krishna stated that he hacked the e-procurement site in 2019 and made three transfers to two accounts(presumably bank accounts) given to him by one Hemanth Mudappa. He transferred Rs 18 crore to one and Rs 28 crore to another.

“Hemanth claimed he collected 2 crores cash from an entity called Ayub whom I do not know.”

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