A massive blackmail, extortion and sex racket linked to “call money” has been exposed in Andhra Pradesh after women victims of the racket revealed how they were sexually exploited after they failed to repay their loans.
The scandal, which came to light last week, sent shock waves through the state as victims from various towns and district came forward to share horrific details of what they went through at the hands of so-called loan sharks.
A statewide crackdown by the police over the last couple of days has led to the arrest of more than 100 moneylenders, including leaders of different political parties and their kin. Hundreds of others were also detained for questioning.
Preliminary investigations have exposed how far the tentacles of this organised racket go, with rich businessmen, politicians, government officials and criminals all allegedly working in cahoots.
The modus operandi involved offering fast and easy “call money” to anyone in dire need, especially independent women looking to set up businesses. The moneylender, who could easily be reached over phone, would then visit the house of the borrower with the money, promissory notes and other documents, and offered the loan at an extravagant interest rate that ranged from 60% to 200%. The lenders would in turn accept the borrower’s house, vehicle and other properties as guarantee. The unsuspecting borrowers were also asked to sign promissory notes and, in many cases, on blank papers.
The harassment, coercion and blackmailing began when the borrower inevitably failed to repay the loan within the stipulated time.
A woman victim in Visakhapatnam revealed to the police that when she failed to repay her loan, the moneylender threatened to kidnap her children. Another victim said the lender spoke to her in a lewd manner and asked her to come to his house and not worry about the repayment.
The extent of harassment the defaulters were subjected to came to light last week when a woman and her daughter lodged a complaint with the police in Vijayawada that they were forced into flesh trade after they failed to repay their loan.
Acting on their complaint, the police arrested 12 people, including the kingpin -- a government official. Two of those arrested have been booked for rape.
Thereafter, police raids across the state led to the seizure of hundreds of property documents, signed and blank promissory notes, blank cheques and other documents. In Vijayawada alone, the racket is estimated to be worth over Rs 700 crore.
The YSR Congress Party targeted the ruling Telugu Desam Party for alleged involvement of its leaders in the racket, but the police said those arrested include leaders from different political parties.
The government has ordered a judicial probe into the matter under a retired judge of the high court, but the YSR Congress Party is steadfast in its demand for an inquiry by a sitting judge.
This issue rocked the state legislature on Thursday, with the Opposition demanding an immediate debate on the issue. Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu assured the assembly that the culprits would be brought to justice. “No matter how powerful they are and which party they belong to, we will see to it that they are brought to book and punished,” he said.