Sixteen workers taken to Vietnam by deported gangster Bunty Pande were sent back to Mumbai on Monday.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Himanshu Roy said the group — all skilled and semi-skilled workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal — were sent back by the Indian Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City following the expiry of their visas.
The Crime Branch recorded their statements and slapped a case of cheating against Pande, who is in their custody. Pande was detained by the Vietnamese police on an Interpol warrant late last month and deported to India on November 4.
The 16 workers were handed over to Indian embassy on November 3.
Police sources said on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the media that the 16 men were taken to Vietnam in two batches — six workers on October 6 and the rest on October 22.
They were contacted by Pande’s agents and sent to Mumbai first. They were housed by four “regional managers” attached to a manpower supply agency run by one Raj Sharma in Ho Chi Minh City. Sharma, said the sources, was one of Pande’s alibis.
“Pande was engaged with a government construction firm — Coffee Co — in Vietnam for the last five years. He supplied workers to the company in return for commissions.
Earlier he would source manpower from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
“He focused on India after workers from the other countries started demanding better deals,” said the source. “Pande took advantage of the visa on arrival facility in Vietnam.”
Pande’s agency charged between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh from each of the 16 workers, depending on the job assigned. Part of the money went towards arranging passports and documentation from the Vietnamese consulate. $20-$30 (Rs 900-Rs 1,350) was spent on obtaining visas at the airport.
The rest was pocketed by Pande and his agents, whom the Crime Branch is hunting.
“In Vietnam, visa on arrival is given for a maximum of 30 days. After that, you need a work permit. Since Pandey — his passport was in the name of ‘Vijay Sharma’ — was an authorised contractor for Coffee Co, getting work permits was never a problem,” said the source.
The workers were on three-year contracts and promised $250-$300 (Rs 11,250-Rs 13,500) per month for manual jobs; crane and JCB operators got $350-$400 (Rs 15,750-Rs 18,000).
“Pande would charge $50 (Rs 2,250) per worker every month as commission,” said the source, adding that he had earlier taken a group of 40 workers to Vietnam.
They are still working there.
Food and lodging for the workers was taken care of by the construction firm.
None of the workers knew Pande’s actual identity or of his affiliation to the underworld.