Ravi Punjabi, 32, the Khar-based builder arrested by the Crime Branch on Wednesday for alleged underworld links, is said to have come across gangster Ravi Pujari five years ago.
Crime Branch sources said on Thursday, on condition of anonymity, that Punjabi met Pujari when he just broken away from don Chhota Rajan and was trying to gain a foothold in Mumbai’s extortion racket.
Sources said the meeting was arranged by Punjabi’s college friend Bhusan Satam, son of another former Rajan confidant Guru Satam. Bhusan is thought to be hiding in a South East Asian country.
“Pujari knew Punjabi was a builder and got information about Mumbai’s real estate market, including details of projects and profit margins, from him. This information was useful to identify extortion targets,” the sources said. In return, Punjabi allegedly got a share of the spoils.
Sources said Punjabi started gathering information about developers and businessmen, including their contact numbers, and passed them on to Pujari. Thanks to his access to society gatherings and posh clubs such as Khar Gymkhana, Punjabi ensured a regular flow of information. The sources said this was why the number of extortion calls Pujari made showed a dramatic rise after 2005.
Once threatened by Pujari — the extortion call would generally be followed by random firing at the victim’s office — the victim would start discussing the problem with his friends, including Punjabi. “Punjabi would tell the victim that he would negotiate with Pujari to bring down the extortion amount,” the sources said. “The demand would be lowered and the victim would hand over the cash to Punjabi.”
Punjabi, the sources said, would keep a cut and send the rest to Pujari through hawala. He also allegedly looked after payments to Pujari’s foot soldiers in Mumbai and Mangalore.
Senior Crime Branch officials refused to comment on record.
Punjabi has been remanded to police custody till December 10 and has been charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.