For 19 years, Kumar Krishnan Pillai evaded a red corner notice (international arrest warrant) and security agencies while travelling to Hong Kong, South Africa, Singapore, China, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
A Bachelor of Science student in geology at Somaiyya College, he had dropped out to avenge his father’s murder in 1990 and eventually became an underworld gangster.
After almost two decades on the run, his luck finally ran out while visiting his wife Kalpana and daughter Praeeli in Singapore in February this year. Pillai, a doting father, wanted to send Praeeli to the United States to pursue her interest in arts, so she and Kalpana approached the US consulate in Singapore for a visa.
Little did they know that officials at the consulate could quickly access Pillai’s criminal record. The officials saw that there was a red corner notice against him and informed the authorities in Singapore, who cross-checked with their counterparts in New Delhi and confirmed Pillai’s identity.
Pillai, who used to live in Hong Kong and visit his daughter and wife once a week, was arrested when he next entered Singapore, on February 18. To evade extradition to India, and prosecution, he tried to claim that he was a Hong Kong citizen. But this did not work as the Indian authorities had gathered enough evidence to ascertain his true identity, and Pillai was brought back to India.
Hindustan Times tracks back Pillai’s journey into the underworld and how, after initially surviving on a paltry sum his mother used to send via hawala, he steadily built up a businesses in Hong Kong and even became a citizen.
In early 1990, Pillai’s father Krishnan was killed on the orders of Lal Singh Chauhan, a corporator from Vikhroli. Pillai promptly dropped out to avenge his father’s death and pledged to walk barefoot until he killed all his father’s murderers. He allegedly plotted Chauhan’s murder and ensured that he was killed in October 1990.
Pillai then went on to join the dreaded Amar Naik gang, but his luck ran out quickly. In January 1991, he was arrested for Chauhan’s murder. He got bail in 1997 and decided he would never return to jail. While the trial continued (he was acquitted years later) Pillai went to his hometown in Tamil Nadu’s Nagercoil district and planned to start a coconut business. He also got back in touch with Kalpana, his childhood sweetheart, and married her.
But Pillai knew that the police would continue to search for him and decided to leave the country. He drew inspiration from his elder brother Keshav, who had moved to Australia, and decided to go to Hong Kong in 1991.
The move was no cakewalk for Pillai. He initially struggled with his finances but scraped through because of his mother Kamla, who sent him more than Rs1 lakh each month through hawala channels. Kamla also visited him in Hong Kong every six to eight months. Pillai earned Rs 50,000 a month as one of the directors of a school at Vikhroli set up by his late father, and also received rent from six shops his father owned in Chembur and Vikhroli. Police sources said that today, the three shops at Chembur fetch Rs 75,000 a month each in rent while the three at Vikhroli fetch Rs 50,000 a month each.
In Hong Kong, Pillai initially dabbled in the garments and electronics businesses. He would buy pick up German and Japanese electronic goods and sell them in China, where there was a huge demand for them. He later graduated to selling diamonds, according to a police source. He would get uncut and unpolished diamonds from South Africa, have them polished in India and sell them in China. His business grew, and at one point was worth Rs 30 crore.
For a short time 2013, Pillai made a living by selling condoms in Cambodia and Kenya. In 2012, he set up a business in which he would source sand from Sri Lanka and sell it to construction companies in China and India.
The Mumbai crime branch, curious about a Pakistani visa stamp dated 2014 in Kumar’s passport, found that he had a business there too – producing the foil that tablets are packed in – through his manager Adil Shaikh. The police learnt that Pillai was supposed to visit Pakistan for the wedding of Adil’s brother in 2014 but the plan did not work out.
In 1991, Kumar Pillai applied for Hong Kong citizenship. Initially, he was being questioned over the application. However, he managed to get one for himself claiming that he has a turnover of Rs 30 crore through his business in Hong Kong.
There wasn’t any substantial gangland activity or followers of Pillai apart from three persons identified as Vinod Ghogare, Sanchit Shetty and Mahesh Kalingan. The investigators revealed that he didn’t have more than five henchmen with him in Hong Kong.
Pillai claimed that since birth he was based in Vikhroli and wanted to have a good hold there, so occasionally to scare the locals and to ensure that his three-member gang gets some money, he made extortion calls.