Indian police said on Saturday that they had arrested the suspected mastermind, Sagar Thakkar, who is behind a call center IRS tax scam run out of a Mumbai suburb that targeted thousands of US citizens and netted more than $300 million.
According to a Reuters report Sagar Thakkar, 24, also known as Shaggy, was arrested at Mumbai’s international airport in the early hours of Saturday after he flew in from Dubai. A police officer on the case, Mukund Hatote, confirmed this information to Reuters.
In October, the US Justice Department charged more than 60 people in India and the US with participating in the huge scam where call center agents impersonated Internal Revenue Service (IRS), immigration or other federal officials and demanded payments for non-existent debts.
The US Justice Department said at least 15000 US citizens had been targeted by the tele-fraud that was run out of a Mumbai suburb in India.
The scam which ran for more than a year was blown open in early October, when Indian police raided a host of call centers at Mira Road in the Mumbai suburb of Thane and detained over 700 people suspected of involvement in defrauding US citizens. Other call centers involved in the scam that operated from the western city of Ahmedabad were also raided and shut down by authorities.
Sagar Thakkar (right) and his sister Reema Thakkar
At a news conference on Saturday evening, Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said Thakkar, who was charged in December along with others, had fled to Dubai in October following the raids and that he had also spent some time in Thailand over the last six months.
Sagar Thakkar, wearing blue jeans and a checked shirt, was presented to media on the sidelines of the press conference, but his face was covered with a black cloth.
Singh said he had interrogated Thakkar and was “impressed with his knowledge of the US and Indian systems.” Singh said Thakkar had confessed to his involvement in the scam.
Singh said Thane police have so far charged 400 people in the case, and about a dozen of them are in custody.
Sagar Thakkar was listed as a call center operator and payment processor in the US Department of Justice indictment that charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.
According to the indictment, call center operators threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties.
Payments by victims were laundered by a US network of co-conspirators using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, often using stolen or fake identities, the indictment said.
US and Indian authorities have been working together on the investigation. The United States had said it would be seeking the extradition of the alleged scamsters based in India.
Indian police have previously said that Sagar Thakkar led a lavish lifestyle, frequenting five-star hotels and driving around in expensive cars.
Sagar Thakkar led an affluent life and was a regular figure in the Mumbai party circle. He was accompanied around by a battery of bouncers and bodyguards and was fond of high-end vehicles.
Investigators added that he had purchased an Audi R8 car, valued at INR 2.5 crore, from cricketer Virat Kohli in May last year. According to the police report, Thakkar bought the car from Kohli on May 7, 2016, and a document related to this sale was signed. However, Thane police chief Param Bir Singh said that Mr Kohli was an “innocent seller” who had no idea who he was dealing with. The luxury car was seized from Ahmedabad. Thakkar had supposedly purchased the car for his girlfriend as a birthday gift.
On December 2nd, the Thane crime branch had filed a 5,000-page charge-sheet in the case that named 700 people as accused. The police also filed supplementary charge-sheets showing properties seized.
Sagar Thakkar “mentor” was arrested in October 2016
A Mumbai businessman who ‘mentored’ Sagar Thakkar alias Shaggy, the alleged mastermind of the multi-million dollar fake call center racket, wherein US-based taxpayers were allegedly conned by Indian tele-callers, was arrested in October 2016.
The 33-year-old man, identified as Jagdish Kanani was arrested from suburban Borivali, a senior police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
According to police, Mr Thakkar, who was the run at that time, has worked under Mr Kanani in the past at Ahmedabad and Mumbai, where he and some of his associates picked up the tricks of trade from his ‘Guru’.
Another 630 people were booked under IPC sections 384 (extortion), 419 (cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating) and under relevant sections of IT Act and Indian Telegraph Act.
The “callers” used to make calls to people in the US and speak to them in American accent by posing as officials of US Internal Revenue Service. Subsequently, police teams also raided and shut down five call centres in Ahmedabad which were a part of the racket.
Also, investigations into the racket has led Thane Police to suspect involvement of the son of a senior IPS officer from Gujarat in running these illegal call centres in Ahmedabad.
Haider, one of the arrested men, has told police that Mr Thakkar allegedly gave 30 per cent of the ill-gotten income to his agents in the United States who provided him data base of US tax-payers.
Of the remaining amount, 40 per cent went to Tapesh Gupta, Akhilesh Singh, Rahul Dogra, Jimmy (all absconding accused) and Haider, while Sagar kept the 60 per cent share.
The daily turn-over from the call centers in Mira Road was around Rs. 2 crore, police said.
Call executives were designated as ‘dialler’, who made the call and ‘closer’, who carried out final ‘negotiations’.
The Dialler got two rupees per every US dollar earned by the racketeers, while the ‘closer’ got three rupees per every US dollar as incentive, over and above the salary, they said.
Reports say that over 700 people worked full-time to run this organized crime circle.
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