Influential politicians linked to bitcoin scam: Congress accuses BJP of cover-up

Responding to the allegation, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said that it was the state government that referred the investigation to the ED.
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah told the media that two influential politicians were involved and there was an attempt to cover up their role in the case. (PTI)
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah told the media that two influential politicians were involved and there was an attempt to cover up their role in the case. (PTI)
Updated on Oct 29, 2021 12:34 AM IST
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ByArun Dev and Sharan Poovana, Bengaluru

An Enforcement Directorate (ED) probe into an 11-month-old case in Bengaluru involving a cryptocurrency hacker is snowballing into a political controversy with the Opposition accusing the ruling BJP of a cover-up. Opposition leader Siddaramaiah told the media that two influential politicians were involved and there was an attempt to cover up their role in the case.

“There is information about the involvement of influential politicians of Karnataka in drugs and bitcoin scam. It is concerning that the investigating officers are trying to close the case to help those politicians,” tweeted Siddaramaiah on Thursday.

Talking to reporters on Thursday, he said: “If they had to refer it to ED, what were they doing till now. If it has to be referred to ED, it means there is something. If they have stayed quiet all these days and now saying that they have referred it to ED, it means that protection was given till now,” Siddaramaiah, the former chief minister and Congress leader of the opposition said.

Responding to the allegation, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said that it was the state government that referred the investigation to the ED. “All investigations have been done at the state level and then we referred it to ED and CBI. The investigations will continue and there is no scope for any interference in it by anyone,” Bommai said on Thursday.

On charges made by Siddaramaiah, Bommai said, “If there are any specific allegations, let them tell us; and we will investigate”.

Karnataka home minister Jnanendra, however, contradicted Bommai’s statement and said that that the case is being probed by the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID). “Investigation is underway. The CID is doing it. So, whatever statement I make may come in the way of the investigation. Our police have taken it seriously. They’re going to the root, and they’ll bring it out soon,” he said.

“Whoever is involved, be it, politicians, from any of the three parties here or non-politicians, will be brought to book. The inquiry is going on well. CID officers are experts. They’re on top of this,” he said, adding that nobody will be saved or protected. “It’s a very serious case and investigation is on,” he added.

The case involving influential politicians in Karnataka continues to get murkier with allegations of misappropriation of around 15,000 bitcoins, valued at roughly 2,600 crore, said one person aware of the developments, requesting anonymity.

On November 18, 2020, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) sleuths had seized bitcoins worth 9 crore from a Bengaluru-based hacker Srikrishna alias Sriki. He was also accused of breaking into government portals and of sourcing drugs through the darknet while paying for it. He is also accused of hacking into some bitcoin exchanges and was also involved in money laundering by converting Indian currency to bitcoins.

Officers in Karnataka Police, who didn’t want to be named said that the suspect despite having cases of serious financial crimes against him is out of bail. It is alleged that while the official records show that 33 bitcoins were recovered from him, in fact, that seizure was much bigger.

“A tip-off from an international intelligence, which was tracking the hacker’s activity, had tipped off India’s central agencies. From the information available to us, a probe is being conducted into whether there was a coverup and bribe paid in the form of cryptocurrency,” said the officer.

The allegations come at a time even though there is at least three serious growing discontentment over portfolio distribution, lack of funds being released for development works and rumblings over the projection of the incumbent as the next chief ministerial candidate within the BJP ranks against Basavaraj Bommai, who was chosen by overlooking several seniors within the party.

There have been talks of a change in leadership and the allegations may fuel it, said another person aware of the developments.

The BJP had forced BS Yediyurappa to step down from the top post over allegations of corruption by him and his family members and hoped to make a smooth transition of power in order to suffer the least number of damages before the 2023 assembly elections.

The Congress has spared no opportunity to corner the BJP on charges of corruption that could further dent the saffron outfits’ chances in Karnataka which it is its strongest base in southern India and its gateway to the other regions.

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Friday, January 28, 2022