All for money: How one man married and defrauded 27 women
On February 13, a 66-year-old man was travelling in a car in Bhubaneswar when he suddenly found himself surrounded. A special squad of Odisha police had been tailing him for eight months, and this was their chance. They had done their homework, knew his vehicle, had tracked his online transactions.
When Bibhu Prakash Swain emerged from the rented car, the squad was flummoxed. This was no Don Juan. He was a portly man barely 5 feet 2 inches tall, with a trimmed, bushy moustache.
Surrounded, Swain flashed a weak smile and surrendered. By the time the police team had finished interrogating him, they had confirmation that they had arrested one of Odisha’s biggest imposters, who had married at least 27 women in 10 states, defrauded 13 banks in Kerala of ₹1 crore through 128 forged credit cards in 2006, and cheated people in Hyderabad of ₹2 crore, promising seats in MBBS courses for their children.
Arrested on the basis of a police complaint lodged by one of his wives in May 2021 under sections 498 (A), 419, 468, 471 and 494 of the Indian Penal Code, Swain was immediately remanded to judicial custody in Bhubaneswar.
“He did not seem anything from what we had imagined him to be. We are not even sure if he has passed the matriculation exam. But we knew that he had preyed on unsuspecting women looking for security and love,” said Sanjiv Satpathy, assistant commissioner of police, who led the team that arrested Swain.
The 27 wives
From marrying an assistant commandant of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to a chartered accountant from Chhatisgarh, teachers of a New Delhi-based school, a doctor in Tezpur in Assam, two advocates of the Supreme Court and the Delhi high court, a government employee from Indore to an officer of the Kerala Administrative Service in the last three and a half years, Swain targeted his victims through matrimonial sites like Jeevansathi.com, Shaadi.com and Bharatmatrimony.com.
He posed as professor Bidhu Prakash Swain, a 51-year-old working as deputy director general of health education and training with an annual income of ₹50-70 lakh. “...presently posted South Central division as the chief controler of NEET UG and PG entrance examination and I search a porson how having good understanding to menten are good resource of family values,” he wrote about himself.
His poorly worded introduction should have been a giveaway, but the women Swain reached out to were above the ages of 40, struggling to deal with societal pressure, or were divorced, or had problems in the family.
“Though he looked more than 60 in real life, his victims ignored it while considering his government job. Swain took full advantage of the women’s helplessness and laid elaborate traps,” said Bhubaneswar deputy commissioner of police Umashankar Dash. “Though we are yet to know how much money he made out of the victims, initial assessments say he collected ₹2-10 lakh from his victims. His motive was marry for money.”
Con men like Swain will continue to thrive as long as marriage is considered necessary for a woman’s existence to be legitimised and they are encouraged to believe that it is their duty to protect their marriages, irrespective of the costs, said sociologist Rita Ray.
“Families often choose to marry women off to reduce their economic burden, and also single women are looked down upon in our society,” Ray said.
A Delhi-based woman, one of the victims of Swain, whose complaint in May 2021 led to his arrest, had posted her profile in one matrimony site in 2018. The woman’s father had died several years ago, and being the eldest sibling, she had to look after the family.
Once she was in her forties, her ageing mother pressurised her to get married. Within 15 days of posting her profile, Swain sent a message to her, flaunting his “official position as a deputy director general in health ministry” and wanting to get married at the earliest.
“I did not suspect a thing. He came to my home twice with one of his assistants. As I had spent a considerable time in Odisha before moving to Bhilai and then Delhi, I thought Odia men were innocent and could never cheat anyone. In July 2018, we got married in an Arya Samaj temple. But he never took me to Odisha till December 2018, when he brought me to an apartment in Bhubaneswar. However, five days later, he said he is leaving for Bangalore on official work and I returned to Delhi. I started getting suspicious when he would suddenly leave me at short notice and disappear for months together,” said the woman, who lodged an FIR with the Mahila police station of Bhubaneswar in May 2021 after receiving information from one of his staff members about his other marriages.
A Delhi-based teacher, who was contacted by Swain after seeing her profile on shaadi.com in July 2019, said: “When we met, he spoke very nicely and said he would take a transfer from Bangalore (where he claimed to be working) to Delhi. At my age, I thought nothing could be better than this and did not do any check of his antecedents. By the time I knew, it was too late.”
Another victim from Jabalpur town in Madhya Pradesh, who married Swain in July 2020, said she was also taken in by the advertisement where he claimed he had a government job and was a doctor.
“There were no male members in my family as I had lost my father and brother a few years ago. There was no way to verify his age and we were taken in by the fake identity card. He wanted to rush through the marriage and said it would be held in Jagannath temple in Puri, but midway he took me to Maa Sarala temple in Jagatsinghpur district, saying the temple was closed due to Covid restrictions. It was only after he brought me to an apartment in Bhubaneswar several months later that I had my first doubts. A maidservant who worked in his house told me about his past and I left. However, I could not bring back the gold jewellery worth ₹2 lakh, which I had taken with me,” the woman said.
Swain said he had rented at least three apartments in Bhubaneswar, where he would keep three wives at the same time, according to a police officer who has questioned him.
“He would slink away for days together, saying he had an urgent inspection of medical colleges. After marriage, he would often tell his wives to lend him money, pleading that government has frozen his bank account for some reason. Once he got the money, he would look for another wife,” the officer said, requesting anonymity.
In his mobile phone, police found the names of several women saved as “wife one”, “wife doctor”, “wife Bhilai”, “wife teacher”, “wife Guwahati”, “wife Bangalore”, “to be wife Dhenkanal” and “to be wife Jagatsinghpur” in his contacts list.
The money motive
During the wedding or after, Swain would make money from his wives either by taking gold jewellery or cash from them. From a woman he married in July 2020, he took gold jewellery worth ₹2 lakh for his family members as well as ₹2 lakh in cash. The woman’s family had to borrow money at high interest rates from their acquaintances in the belief that they were getting a doctor as a son-in-law.
Similarly, he took ₹10 lakh from an ITBP official, whom he married in a gurudwara and cheated another ₹11 lakh from gurudwara officials, promising them that he would get them permission from the union health ministry for building a hospital. A divorcee school teacher in Odisha, who had married Swain in 2019 after connecting through Shaadi.com, was left poorer by a gold ring.
“After marriage, he would call up his wives, saying he is stuck at an airport as his ticket has been cancelled or he needed money for a sudden illness. He would take money, promising to return it the next day, which of course he never did,” said apolice officer.
When the first FIR was lodged in July 2021 and police started tracking his calls, they were intrigued to see his footprints all over the country, starting from Tezpur in Assam to Kerala. By the time they started tracking him, he would often switch off his mobile phones.
Last year, the police team almost got lucky when they reached Tezpur, but found he had already left. But analysing his call records, they knew that he would be back in Bhubaneswar every 3-4 months and had to patiently wait while tracking his mobile phone.
In Swain’s native village of Singhalo in Kendrapara district, his octogenarian stepmother Gouri Swain was aghast at the scandal. She said her son first married a girl of a nearby village in 1979 and the couple had two sons and a daughter. But his first marriage soured and Swain remarried a doctor in the port town of Paradip.
“Around six months ago, he came to the village, but he never told us about his marriages. In any case, he has never cared for us,” his stepmother said.
His younger brother Umesh, a farmer, said his brother worked as an assistant in the laboratory of a doctor. “Later, he started posing as a doctor, and treated patients in the village and nearby areas. In 1990, Ramesh left the village and worked in Cuttack, Dhenkanal and other districts,” he said.
Swain did not make money just from his wives, but ran several other scams over the past three decades. In 2006, he was arrested by Kerala police following allegations that he duped around 13 banks, including the State Bank of India, Kochi, to the tune of more than ₹1 crore by producing 128 forged credit cards, forged identity cards, salary certificates, etc.
Swain managed to secure bail in the case and is being tried. Police, who took him on a five-day remand on Friday, said they have found his involvement in at least 18 more cases of fraud, including a case of cheating a person after promising him to start a poultry incubation centre.
A few years later in 2010, he was arrested by a special task force of the Hyderabad police after collecting ₹2 crore from students, including an owner of a nursing home in Hyderabad, promising them to provide admission in medical colleges. He secured bail in this case as well and is under trial.
Swain ran his diagnostic centres which he reportedly got as a franchisee from a reputed chain of diagnostic labs in Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Badamba town in Cuttack district. He employed around four doctors and 13 other staff, many of whom alleged not to have received salaries for months as their cheques bounced. Swain’s wives had no knowledge about these diagnostic centres.
Bhubaneswar Police, who formed a team from its anti-fraud cell, cyber cell and Mahila police station to track his gamut of crimes, including multiple marriages, believe that his second wife, a doctor he married in 2002, could be hand in glove in the racket.
“It was surely not a one-man show and he parked his loot with his wife and different people over the years. From his chat transcripts and other evidence, we have found out that he was in touch with 70-75 other women whom he could have married over the next few years,” said a senior police officer.
“There are also allegations that he stole kidneys of some people in his clinic,” the officer said. “For the time being, we need to know all the bank accounts that he operated in different names and have written to RBI and other financial authorities.”