A fast developing city with moneyed residents and a high crime rate, this is what lured Irani gangs, two of which were busted by the Gurugram police in recent months, to shift their base to the National Capital Region (NCR) from Bengaluru after their activities started gaining the attention of law enforcement agencies in the country’s Silicon Valley. This was among the things confessed by Esmael Foroughinashi (37), the kingpin of an Iranian gang that allegedly stole cash and electronic gadgets from shops in Manesar and Bilaspur, police said. “We chose to operate in Manesar and Bilaspur because the police presence is thin and people are simple, hence easy to dupe. One person is only assigned the task of scanning newspapers to know the police reaction and if the news was even reported. We stop once there is enough awareness about our modus operandi,” the police quoted the 37-year-old native of Karaj in Iran as telling them after his arrest on June 21. The police also claimed that Esmael had told them that he and his gang had been active in Gurugram for two to three years, and that this was his fifth visit to India on a tourist visa. The police also claimed that during interrogation, Foroughinashi initially pretended to not understand Hindi, but soon spilled the beans in Haryanavi. “Foroughinashi told us that after coming to the city, they spent the first few months just learning the local language, and even paid Rs5,000 per month to a man who taught them the local dialect,” police commissioner Muhammad Akil said. Akil added that key to the operation of Irani gangs—at least 100 of which are reportedly active in NCR, Rajasthan and UP—was detailed planning, involving locals and the ever-evolving modus operandi designed to escape the police. Police added that most of these men and women come to India on a tourist or medical visa, commit crime, collect money, flee after a few months and revisit after a break.“These gangs are coming up with unique ways to cheat people in NCR, where more than 200 cases, including the recent one in Manesar, have been registered against them this year only,” deputy commissioner of police (Manesar) Rajesh Kumar saidModus Operandi According to Akil, the nexus of Irani gangs in NCR was revealed during an interstate meeting of the police in April, when the Gurugram Police shared with its counterparts from Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana the increasing problem of Irani nationals being arrested for crime. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Delhi Police had shared that there were at least 38 crime cases involving Irani gangs in its jurisdiction at that time. Delhi police, DCP (south district), Vijay Kumar, said, “Members of these gangs, who hail from Iran, mostly come to Delhi-NCR from Mumbai and commit crimes, such as robbing people of their belongings after offering lifts or conning elderly people, especially women, and stealing their jewellery by posing as police personnel. Sometimes, they trick women into removing their jewellery by cooking up stories of violent snatchings in the neighbourhood. There are 100s of such cases reported in Delhi-NCR.”Akil said, “Of these, at least 20 gangs are operating in Gurugram. We have managed to nab six people from two different gangs, one was busted in February and another in June.”Investigation into the operation of such gangs revealed that members of these gangs take advantage of their looks, which set them apart from locals and hence reduce suspicion, their strength and “excellent riding and driving skills”. “Most gang members live in cheap hotels in Delhi and plan their operations from there. These conmen target areas after thorough reconnaissance, and usually involve a local who is preferably a drug addict. This local connect is used to understand the area’s layout and police presence,” Akil said, adding that different gangs operating in the same city even divide their “jurisdiction”. Once the mapping of the area is done, they arrange for a local transport, a second-hand car or bike to use in crime, which is never taken out of that city or even area. Robbing businessmenBased on the cases filed against various Irani citizens, the police have zeroed in on four modus operandis, the most recent one—robbing businessmen of cash by engaging the cashier in small talk about Indian currency as a another member steals money from the cash box.DCP (Manesar) said that in the last two months, they have received more than six complaints from Manesar and Bilaspur in which Irani men had duped shopkeepers and fled with cash. In all, the total cash lost was estimated to be around Rs8 lakh. “This modus operandi was new for us too. There were CCTV installed in the shops they targeted, but they always operate in different areas with several members and hence a new face would be captured in the footage each time. We had told shopkeepers that if people of similar ethnicity visit their shop, the shopkeepers should engage them in a conversation and immediately inform us, but to no avail,” Kumar said, adding that they would target a new area after striking in a particular area 10 to 12 times. In fact, many people did not even complained to the police in Bilaspur and Manesar and informed only after they saw the pictures of Foroughinashi (37), Abbas Fiyouj (18) and Farzad Farokhi Khan (33), printed in the newspaper after their arrest in June, the police said. “They used to form a team involving a local person who would help them understand the city and plan their escape, if surrounded by police and locals. They move in groups—two bikes and one four-wheeler per gang—when targeting a shop. They always target areas close to highways for easy escape and they park stolen cars near highways so that if it is identified, they can flee on motorbikes,” Kumar said. Two Irani gangs have been busted in Gurugram this year, and both were involved in stealing cash from businessmen. Conning people by posing as cops Members of such gangs carry fake police ID cards, with the most common being to stop old women wearing jewellery in posh localities and “helping them” put it in a bag. “They pose as station house officers of the nearest police station or in-charge of a crime investigation unit and weave a story about conmen moving in the area eyeing women wearing jewellery. One of them advises women to wrap all their jewellery in a newspaper, which they carry. To come across as genuine, one of them would take the victim to another member of the gang standing some distance away in the uniform of an assistant commissioner of police, who would help the victim wrap the jewellery in a newspaper, but would actually use the opportunity to swap the original jewellery with fake. When the victim returns home and unwraps the newspaper, they realise that they were duped,” Akil said. More than 38 such cases have been registered in Gurugram in DLF Phase 1, 2, Sector 29, Sushant Lok, Palam Vihar and Sector 5 police stations.Chain snatchingAccording to the alleged confessions by arrested gang members shared by the police, they usually start off with snatchings as it is one of the most commonly reported crimes, and change their plans after police increases vigil. The Irani gang members are known to operate as chain-snatchers as they are good riders, study their area of operation well. These men spend a lot of time memorising even the internal roads to escape.According to the police data, until March this year, there were on an average three to four snatching cases reported per week. “This is what lured Foroughinashi and his gang to Gurugram,” Akil said, adding that since they are good riders and study an area well, they escape fast and are known to even change T-shirts while ridingto keep from getting identified. Police said that their areas of operations in the city were DLF Phase 1, 2, 3, Sushant Lok-1, Palam Vihar and Sector 56.To curb such instances, the police have now involved crime teams and local security guards. A WhatsApp group has been formed to share information of such incidents. “These gang members change modus operandi when they realise police is on alert and go underground for some time,” said Akil.Looting foreign nationals as cops Another lucrative way for gangs, according to police, is targeting foreign nationals who come to NCR for medical treatment. Tabrez Alam, director of AL Hayat, a medical tour and tourism agency, said that he has filed at least 30 cases in which Iranians were involved in duping around 100 foreign nationals from Iraq, Turkey, Oman, Cambodia and Kuwait, all of whom had come to India for medical treatment. Alam said that such gangs are usually active near private hospitals in Gurugram. “I have met the commissioner of police and the crime team officials but to no avail. These gangs have been very active in the city for the last two years. They are sharp and involve locals in their gang to help them and give shares from the thefts and robberies. I have also sent pictures and videos to police when we caught them red handed, but these men are still absconding,” Alam said, adding that patients have become very wary and scared as they even pose as policemen and take their currency on the pretext of checking for fake currency or narcotic substances.While most of such cases were reported from sectors 38, 51, 43 and Sushant Lok in the city, similar complaints were also received from Jhajjar, Faridabad, Panipat, Rohtak and Rewari.“Posing as policemen, the accused approach patients walking towards the hospital and ask them to show their bags. They show them fake identity cards and say that a special drive is being carried out to check if any foreign patient is carrying any narcotic substance. While checking the bag they flee with the money,” Akil said.