Santosh Shetty is nothing like the typical Mumbai underworld gangster often depicted in Indian films. He is suave and prefers high-street brands when it comes to his T-shirts and jeans.
Born to a family of hoteliers, Shetty was brought up in Breach Candy. Much before his life took a sinister turn, Shetty had finished a course in hotel management and was an intern at a popular hotel. Problems arose when he began having differences with his father.
Using his father’s connections in Dubai, Shetty allegedly capitalised on the value of gold in India and began smuggling it in 1985. Even though he was still a novice, Shetty was sure he would be caught if he conducted business through the traditional channels that Dawood Ibrahim or other underworld gangsters used.
Instead, Shetty tied up with banks and ensured that gold bought from Dubai was transferred to Swiss banks — he would later smuggle it in from Switzerland.
Shetty later forayed into imports and exports and smuggled in almost every material that had the potential to be profitable — transistors, hard disks, and computers, among other electronic goods. His business flourished.
He met Dawood and his family during his smuggling days, but never joined them, said police sources. But, all this was to change drastically after the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. When Chhota Rajan parted ways with Dawood under the pretext of the blasts, Shetty promptly joined the former.
His association with Rajan was aided by a friend in Dubai, police sources said. After he joined Rajan’s gang, which needed money to establish itself, Shetty took to smuggling narcotics, kidnapping and murder. Shetty used his import-export business as a front to smuggle narcotics into the country and to South Africa. In 1994, he was arrested for narcotics trading and was sent to Nashik jail.
He got out on bail in 1999, but was soon on his way to Bangkok where he had already established a base with the help of other smugglers. Although he was Rajan’s key lieutenant for controlling narcotics, he was not close to Rajan until 2000, when Dawood carried out an attack on Rajan in Bangkok.
A wounded Rajan allegedly called Shetty for help. Through his local connections in Bangkok, Shetty ensured Rajan got out of Thailand, police sources said.
Shetty and Rajan then allegedly travelled to Cambodia and from there to Iran, and tried to enter Pakistan to plan an attack on Dawood.
But, it failed to materialise, and both had to get back to Malaysia, said police sources.
There was another incident which drew Shetty and Rajan closer — when the former found out that OP Singh, Rajan’s key lieutenant, was to defect from the gang, and had plans to run his own gang. Shetty tipped off Rajan. Singh was later found murdered within the Nashik jail premises, police sources said.
But, in the same year, a failed drug deal allegedly led to bitterness between Rajan and Shetty. Their relationship ended when Shetty had to give a $5,00,000 hotel in Bangkok to Rajan, police sources said.
Shetty, who, like Rajan, claims to be a patriot, is believed to have assisted Indian intelligence agencies in cracking down on the counterfeit currency racket primarily run by Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Shetty is also believed to have been instrumental in the killing of advocate Shahid Azmi, who was defending Faheem Ansari in the 26/11 attacks case, police sources said. An internal conflict between two agencies saw Shetty being extradited from Bangkok in 2011.