Mumbai police traces hawala transactions in call centre scam


Mumbai: Thane police probing the multi-crore call centre racket involved in duping American citizens suspect that the accused used the hawala channel to divert the proceeds of the crime into India. A team of Thane crime branch is also looking into the money laundering aspect and, if required, will rope in the Enforcement Directorate for further investigations.

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The police suspect that there could be more such call centres operations in Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat. “We’re investigating the transactions, which include both hawala and wire transfers. We are looking at where the funds were being deposited, in whose US account they were going into, and what this US person’s cut was,” Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told Business Standard.

The police is also probing who the associates of the illegal call centre operators are. “Investigations will also reveal whether the associates were employees or if they were partners or owners. There may be money laundering too and, if necessary, we’ll seek the ED’s help,” Singh added.

He further said that the crime branch has managed to get the name of the mastermind, the search for whom is on. According to Singh, the police has identified 10 accused, including the mastermind of the scam, who are absconding. Deputy Commissioner of Police Parag Manere said, “It is hawala; we are hoping to get some details of wire transfer, some account numbers, some income tax returns filed or some documentation. All these aspects are being investigated.”

Manere added that leading lawyer Dhananjay Mali was being roped in as special public prosecutor to argue the case in the court. Singh said that victims of these illegal call centres have also hired detectives who have been contacting him for further details. He said he has provided his e-mail to detectives for sharing information.

Officials from US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation are expected to land in Mumbai to seek more details. “'Let the IRS guys come. They won’t be present during interrogation, but we will provide all the information they want,” Singh said. The illegal call centre operators were duping innocent US citizens, and fraudulently transferring money, posing as US tax officials from the US IRS.

Singh said, “The call centres were collecting data of victims from the illegal market.” The names of call centres, which are unregistered, are Universal Services, Tech Solution, Call Tech, I Serve BPO and Lorex Impex. The owners of these call centres were paying to their employees in cash ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 70,000 a month.

“The call centres were clocking average daily turnover of Rs 1-1.5 crore. They were maintaining accounts and daily shift data, which the supervisors sent to the directors,” said Singh. The employees had three categories – diallers, callers and closers of the transaction. Incentives were also paid for extorting higher money.

While 851 hard disks have been seized, Singh said retrieving data might be difficult. Singh said the building owner will be arrested after verification. “Of the 772 persons, 70 arrested have been granted police custody up to October 10 while 72 were allowed to go. But, 630 are under radar and most of them may be arrested during the course of investigation. Some of them could be made witnesses,” he added.

Manere said of the 70 arrested, there are owners, company directors, floor managers-cum-supervisors and accountants. “In one seven-storey building alone, there were seven call centres taken on rent, which were well furnished, with high-end computers and other gadgets. Some of these were as old as one year, while others were set up barely two months ago.”

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