These days, Mumbai police's crime branch officials would be hard-pressed to remember the last time they heard Fahim Muchmuch, a member of Dawood Ibrahim's gang, coercing a businessman in Mumbai to pay protection money with his expletive-ridden overseas calls.
But about four years until 2007, a day did not pass when the same officials spent a large part of the day preparing transcripts of Fahim's unending extortion call intercepts.
Time has changed and the D Company, as Dawood's gang is known, has moved ahead. It no longer requires the expertise of seasoned 'callers' like Fahim to knock out protection money from unscrupulous businessmen or shady investors. Rather, these days, the gang is busy legitimising its ill-gotten millions by investing in the same trades that were once its chosen hunting ground.
"There are strong reasons to believe that the D Company, unlike the smaller underworld outfits, is no longer in the extortion business. There has not been a single (extortion) call (intercept) of the gang since the past three-four years. Similarly, no one from the Dawood (or his lieutenant Chhota Shakeel) gang has been arrested in these years," said a senior crime branch official requesting anonymity. "From what we have gathered, they have become investors and don't want to spoil their image by making ransom demands," he said.
Former assistant commissioner of police Suresh Wali-Shetty, a key investigator in the 1993 serial blast case and a veteran of many operations against the Dawood gang, said it had generated sufficient money from smuggling and extortion from developers and the film industry. "What were they supposed to do with the stacked millions? They had to legitimise the money and multiply it. Both the real estate and film industry offered good returns," Wali-Shetty said.
Crime branch sources claim the D Company was initially welcomed whole-heartedly by a section of the construction industry involved in Slum Rehabilitation Scheme projects and grabbing land from rival builders, both of which require muscle power.
They began with fortifying their presence following the deportation of a string of their operatives from abroad, notably the Emirates, from 2003 onwards. "The investment came from overseas to the gang's point-men, both through cash and cheques. The money then found its way into real estate, film and hospitality industry," said sources.
Underworld watchers say many of the city's big construction projects - shopping malls, residential housing projects or hotels - have Dawood's covert partnership. "If the security agencies earnestly go after Dawood's money trail in Mumbai's real estate, at least three-four listed firms would bite the dust."