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Smooth operators

mumbai Updated: Nov 23, 2009 00:38 IST
Rachna Pratihar

“Rakesh Maria is my best friend and nobody can touch me,” Mohammed Ibrahim Sheikh had told Pappu Sachdev, a Kurla businessman who ran a catering service.

On November 2, Kurla police arrested Sheikh (48) for cheating Sachdev (30) and 20 others by promising them visas for the UK, Dubai and Jordan. Sheikh had supplied them fake visas, and their foreign trips never happened.

When Sachdev — who had paid Rs 8 lakh to Sheikh — confronted him and demanded his money back, he was told to leave. “Sheikh admitted to issuing fake visas but refused to return my money. He challenged me to do what I wanted, saying the police were in his pocket,” said Sachdev.

Sachdev first went to Sheikh to ask for help with a work visa for the UK. Having done a catering course here, Sachdev dreamt of setting up a business there. Today, he’s battling creditors as well as the bank he had borrowed from for his UK trip.

Sachdev has so far registered six non-cognisable complaints against Sheikh, who has threatened him to stop asking for his money. “Last year, I got a call from some men who threatened to kill me at Mohammed Ali Road if I asked for my money,” he said, adding that Sheikh has also threatened to have him killed in an encounter with help from the police.

The police described how Sheikh would typically have his first meeting with his victims at his office in Kurla, where he would have more than 50 passports in a heap on his table.

Sheikh would display the passports and tell his victims he had been in the business for a long while, and that he had a lengthy list of customers.

“Sheikh would target gullible, small-time businessmen, who had little education and no technical knowledge, people who’d never travelled abroad. And he has excellent communication skills,” said Police Inspector Balasaheb Jadhav of the Kurla police station.

Among his victims are businessmen from Delhi, Ahmedabad and Maharashtra. “There was some power in his words and gestures… I couldn’t challenge him, I blindly accepted what he said,” said Abdul Sheikh, another victim.

Jadhav added that Sheikh would normally arrange a visa within 30 days. “The victims knew too little about these things to tell a fake visa from an original one. Sheikh even got their air tickets arranged.”

Sachdev’s family does not know anything about the case. “Knowing my parents, they won’t be able to bear the shock of this kind of a loss, so I didn’t tell them,” he said.