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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Perilously chasing an insurance scam story

An HT reporter investigating the multimillion dollar insurance scam involving cancer patients recounts dangers from parties with vested interests.

gurgaon Updated: May 19, 2019 11:53 IST
Leena Dhankhar
Leena Dhankhar
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Leena Dhankhar is a reporter with HT Gurugram bureau who reported on the multimillion dollar insurance scam involving cancer patients in Haryana.
Leena Dhankhar is a reporter with HT Gurugram bureau who reported on the multimillion dollar insurance scam involving cancer patients in Haryana. (HT Photo )

Earlier this month, we travelled to at least five districts across Haryana to report a story on how con men in the state had allegedly defrauded more than 25 insurance companies in a multimillion dollar scam. The gang used to identify cancer victims, sign them up for insurance schemes before waiting for them to die. Once dead, the gang used to take the corpses, and stage the deaths of these people as accidental to claim the insurance amount.

During the course of our investigation, a photojournalist and I once set out to meet the family of a 21-year-old student of a local Industrial Training Institute, who was arrested by the special task force (STF) for allegedly filing a false FIR about the accidental death of his father when he had actually died of cancer.

I had been trying to reach out to other family members allegedly involved in the fraud but I found out most of them had left their villages and were not traceable. However, I was able to get in touch with a private investigator of an insurance company who informed me that the student’s mother was at home and I could meet her.

Also Read | A multi-million insurance fraud that preyed on disease, poverty, desperation

On May 10, we reached a village, some 32 kilometres from Karnal, to meet the 49 -year-old mother. I must have asked at least 15 people the location to their house but none helped. I called up the private investigator, who helped me find the house at the outskirts of the village.

I was a little hesitant to enter the house as the private investigator had told me that he was held hostage for nine hours and assaulted by some people at the same house. I could hear mild chatter from the house, but when the family members heard us approaching, they fell silent.

I kept knocking on the door but no one responded. So, I pushed the door open. Five people, including a woman, were sitting on a sofa. When I told them that I was there to speak to the mother of the accused, a man, who I later came to know was the deceased’s brother, stood up and asked me what I wanted. I told him I was a journalist and was there to do an interview. Though the woman in the room appeared to be the mother whose photograph the private investigator had shared with me, the man asked us to instead follow him upstairs to a room.

I was thinking if it was the same room where the private investigator was also held hostage. He looked around in the room for his sister-in-law in the room but no one was there. “Was he misleading us?” I thought.

He signalled to his two sons, who came and sat on the khats (jute beds) placed upstairs. They started making frantic calls and texts to someone about us. That’s when I signalled my colleague to move but the man forced us to have water.

I had a sip but spit it out as I coughed and my colleague said he was fasting. He asked us to wait. I told him that we would like to return another time and climbed down.

I engaged him in a conversation and asked him since when his brother had been suffering from cancer and if he had died at home. He said yes, adding that he had been suffering from cancer for more than four years. “He died early on December 21 and my nephew, as directed by Pawan Bhoria (the alleged kingpin), informed him to get the body to Sonipat Civil hospital. He was not aware why he was asked to do so,” he said. He then quickly added that may be, on his way to the hospital, they must have met with an accident. He said they were being framed by the kingpin and police.

Also Read | Insurance fraud: Pre-arrest bail plea of doctor rejected

My job was done. The woman was peeping from the window as we walked out. As this was an important story, I shared my visiting card with the man and requested him to keep me posted on the development of the case.

When I was at the gate, the man asked us to wait while his sons were still on the phone. But my colleague and I sat in the car and asked the driver to drive towards Rohtak without a halt.

We were barely a kilometre away when I received a call from an unknown number. “Madam aap kahan hain? Aapne humare ghar aur bando ki photo li hai. Aapko pata nahi hai kya pichhli baar insurance wale ka kya haal kiya tha. Aap ayiye waapis apna camera leke. Hum apko sikhate hai kaam karna (Madam, where are you? You have clicked pictures of our people and the house. Don’t you know what the insurance guy was made to go through last time around? Come back with your camera. We will teach you how to work), he said. I hung up and switched off the phone.

During the two-hour drive to Rohtak, I kept wondering if anyone was following our car. We asked the car driver to drive as fast as he could and we never looked back.

Leena Dhankhar is a reporter with the Gurugram bureau who covers crime and jail, wildlife, women and child development, excise and RWAS

First Published: May 19, 2019 11:53 IST

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