The Thane police on Wednesday picked up three hawala operators from Mumbai and Ahmedabad, who ensured smooth delivery of cash to the illegal call centres at Mira Road, for questioning. The hawala operators allegedly supplied Rs3crore-Rs4 crore to Delta IT Park month, where nine of these call centres were located.
A top source in the crime branch told HT on Wednesday the operators will be questioned about their ‘contacts’ in Ahmedabad, believed to be the epicentre of the racket.
A senior Thane police officer hinted at the imminent arrest of the hawala operators, stating their custodial interrogation was vital to ascertain the identity and whereabouts of the key conduits, who were directly in touch with Saggy alias Sagar Thakkar, the alleged mastermind of the scam.
Meanwhile, crime branch sources said the names of the hawala operators cropped up during the questioning of the eight “managing directors” of the seven call centres, whose police custody was extended on Monday. The managing directors were directly responsible for hiring employees and distribution of their salaries and bonus which were paid in cash. The accounts were managed using MS Excel sheets, which the police have recovered.
“The managing directors spilled the beans during interrogation and identified those who would deliver cash to the call centres, a day before the salaries were distributed on the fifth of every month,” said sources. Armed with the information, the police raided several places in the western suburbs in Mumbai and rounded up the trio.
During initial questioning, the hawala operators (colloquially called angadias) are learnt to have told the police they would make the payment at the call centres on directions from their counterparts in Ahmedabad, where the money was deposited. “It is a traditional method of money laundering. Large unaccounted money (cash) cannot be transferred through banks without disclosing sources, while carrying such cash from far-off places is not safe. So the money is laundered through the hawala network,” the officer said.
The call centres employed more than 800 people, with salaries varying between Rs15,000 (to trainees) and more than Rs60,000 to mid- and senior-level employees. The total monthly disbursement ran into crores. “Also, many employees were paid a bonus for successful trap,” sources said.
The police said the key hawala operator in Ahmedabad worked with Saggy for the past two years. “It is quite likely the same hawala operator laundered the money knocked out from taxpayers in the United States to India,” sources said, adding his arrest is vital to establish the money trail and find Saggy, who is suspected to have escaped to a Gulf country following the police crackdown. His sister Reema, who is another key player in the cartel, too has gone underground. ________________________________________