Odisha job scam gets bigger, investigators suspect 100 youths were cheated
The Tata Motors job scam which led to the arrest of former BJD MLA Pradeep Panigrahy seems to be getting bigger with the Odisha CID estimating that at least 100 youths in Ganjam district were defrauded of anything between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for a job at the company.
Last week, the CID had arrested former BJD minister Pradeep Panigrahy on several criminal charges including defrauding jobless youths of lakhs of rupees by promising them with jobs at Tata Motors. A week before that, vigilance officials had got the wind of the massive job scam after they arrested Abhay Pathak, a 1987-batch Indian Forest Service officer and his son Akash Pathak, a 25-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from a private engineering college in Bhubaneswar on charges of amassing disproportionate assets. Further interrogations of the Pathak duo by the vigilance officials brought out the extent of the job scam that the junior Pathak had hatched allegedly with Panigrahy.
CID sleuths who are investigating the Tata Motors job scam said the junior Pathak spun a web of lies from posing as managing director of Tata Motors ‘passenger division’ to handing out fake joining letters to the youths for the posts of graduate engineer trainees as well as management trainees in the Tata Motors to creating fake LinkedIn profile of himself.
His name made it to the police files after Tata Motors lodged a complaint with state CID in May this year about Akash posing as the company’s MD. Tata Motors followed up with another complaint in September. However, there was little action on that till the disproportionate asset case of his father blew up last month.
“He may have been a mediocre engineering graduate. But the kind of fraud he has perpetrated upon the youths is unbelievable. While we have seen people posing as IAS or IPS officers, this is the first time we have seen an engineering graduate posing as MD of a BSE-listed company like Tata Motors. From our preliminary assessment, we have found that at least 100 youths paid anything between Rs 5 and 10 lakh for a job in Tata Motors. He is nothing short of Mr Natwarlal,” said a senior CID officer who is probing the case.
Officials said with the help of Panigrahy as well as his disgraced father, Akash Pathak started offices of “Tata Motors” in Mumbai, Pune as well as one from his father’s official quarters in Bhubaneswar. Apart from floating advertisements on job portals for recruitment in Tata Motors passengers division, he conducted interviews of candidates online. He even appointed a personal assistant to help him out in airline bookings and answering his mails. He had also hired bouncers from Mumbai.
David Peter, who worked as his personal assistant from November 2019, revealed how a person in Ganjam used to coordinate the recruitment till Pathak himself took interviews through Zoom app during the Covid pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, he used to make a list of job aspirants and call them up for a meeting at the office. The candidates who were selected for the post of management trainees were promised annual CTC of Rs 11 lakh while the graduate engineering trainees Rs 6 lakh. For a moment I never doubted that he was not MD of Tata Motors as he used to fly to Delhi, Mumbai and Pune and stay in the swankiest hotels of the country,” Peter told his CID during questioning.
During the lockdown when regular commercial flights were not allowed, Pathak along with his father Abhay Pathak as well as his prospective father-in-law Panigrahy took 14 chartered flights to various cities in the country. He also stayed in star hotels at least 15 times this year with room rents going beyond Rs 2.3 lakh per day. Posing as Tata Motors MD, he even donated Rs 5 lakh to the Chief Minister’s relief fund.
The Bhubaneswar police have lodged a case against the Pathak father-son duo for not paying Rs 65 lakh to a city-based travel agency that booked their chartered flights, five star hotels and air tickets. The agency had billed them Rs 2.78 crore, but has so far been paid Rs 2.13 crore. When the agency asked them for the rest of the money, they were threatened.
Vigilance officials who investigated the disproportionate assets of Abhay Pathak, said around Rs 17 crore was transacted through his son’s account over the past year and at one instance cash of Rs 1 crore was deposited through ATM. Investigators who are still tying up the loose ends of the case say that Panigrahy’s money as well as the senior Pathak’s money was being deposited in Akash Pathak’s account.
While his can of worms are spilling out, officials said Pathak is still adamant over his claim being Tata Motors MD. “He is still claiming that he is Tata Motors MD and can prove it. He was just an engineering graduate who could not have even managed to become a senior engineer in Tata Motors in 2 years time. We may have to do his psycho-analysis,” said an official.
The father and son duo who were arrested on November 27, continue to be in jail.