3 gangs, 3 towns in Punjab: How note ban made fakes a lucrative business
What’s common between an award-winning innovator, a cyber cafe owner and some known criminals? They hit upon the idea of printing fake notes to take advantage of confusion after the demonetisation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Here’s how they did it, and what did them in.punjab Updated: Dec 13, 2016 18:39 IST
It started out as an experiment. Engineer Abhinav Verma, 21, got a 2,000-rupee banknote on November 11, the day ATMs started dispensing the new notes, and scanned it for a closer look. A feted innovator, he hit upon an idea. He printed his first fake and handed it out at a petrol pump. It worked.
He and his gang are now in jail in SAS Nagar (Mohali), Punjab, for allegedly printing fake notes of Rs 80 lakh, nearly half of which they circulated in exchange for demonetised notes of Rs 500 and 1,000 at a 30% cut. A ‘client’ eventually told the cops.
Inspired by Marvel comics and movies, Verma was earlier best known as the man behind LiveBraille, a finger-mounted obstruction-sensor with which he wanted to replace the walking stick for the blind. That device is out in the market in 16 countries now. He earned a mention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Indian Science Congress early this year. He had said he wanted “to create something that makes one feel extraordinary the minute they use it”.
Back to now, here’s what the police say. A five-member team led by Verma, whose late father was a senior government official and mother is in the army, used a printer-cum-scanner at his office in Chandigarh’s industrial area to kick off the operation over an extended weekend — November 12-13 (Saturday-Sunday) and 14 (holiday for Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary) — when his staff of 12-14 was on leave.
To make the fakes as real as possible, they used a green marker pen to add shine to the security thread (wire). Weight was matched too, and each note scanned after printing, to check for ‘discrepancies’. The paper mattered.
Investigators claim Verma established contact with officials at a mill in Mysuru for high-quality paper. The government too purchases paper for notes from Mysuru, Nasik and Kolkata, though Verma’s exact links would be known only after Pramod and Harsh, his drivers, are caught. Cops say Pramod got the paper and delivered the ‘exchange’. The gang used a second-hand, white Audi, allegedly bought with their earnings. They even had a red beacon on it, police were told.
Besides Verma, police on November 30 arrested his cousin, Vishakha Verma, 23. From Kapurthala, she is an MBA student and her father is an engineer with the rail coach factory there. Suman Nagpal, 54, a property dealer from Ludhiana, is also in custody for getting clients, believed to be six in all, of whom three have so far come forward. As for the old notes, they deposited about Rs 35 lakh in two banks accounts in the name of Verma’s company, said Sohana (Mohali) station house officer HS Bal.
The gang was close to the perfect crime. Their fakes lacked only two features: When tilted, the green security thread did not turn blue and the embedded Gandhi portrait and ‘Rs 2000’ were not visible.
Wife’s cue leads to gang
In Sangrur, wife of a vegetable vendor noticed a fake Rs 100 note in his pocket. Last week, he was alert as the same people came to him with fake notes, and he created a scene. On Friday, December 9, police eventually arrested four men and recovered Rs 4.15 lakh in fake prints of Rs 2,000 and Rs 100.
They turned out to be old players. “Earlier, they used to get and circulate fake currency from Gorakhpur (UP) at Rs 1 lakh for Rs 60,000,” said Gurdeep Singh, station house officer. Two of them had spent time in jail together in Patiala and got into a partnership.
In the latest, one of them had bought a printer of the brand ‘Brother’ after reading about it on WhatsApp. They, too, could not get the Gandhi picture and the security thread right.
Raids are on to track their past record and future plans.
Not as smart
In Bhikhiwind town of Tarn Taran district, Sandeep Kumar, a computer centre owner, and his friend are in the dock. It started after they bought goods worth Rs 400 with a fake note of Rs 2,000. The shopkeeper and his neighbour involved a bank after getting suspicious.
The police got wind, and the trail led to the duo. Police seized some incomplete printouts too. In this case, though, the alleged modus operandi was rudimentary. On normal paper, they took coloured printouts. But, lack of knowledge about the new notes had encouraged them to give it a shot.