A swindler who left his stamp on police, politicians
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A swindler who left his stamp on police, politicians

Even when law finally caught up with him, Telgi continued to live life king size, reports C Unnikrishnan.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2003 13:52 IST

Even when the law finally caught up with him, Abdul Karim Ladasahab Telgi continued to live life king size. Police officials put him up in luxury hotels and fed him lavish meals, while all along waiting on him. He seemed pretty much law unto himself and it was evident that he had a large number of people — surely all in his pay — to protect him. "There was support to him from every political party," says a police officer connected with the investigations. Many of those politicians are fighting to save their careers now that Telgi has been well and truly netted.

With his sheer money power and clout Telgi managed to hoodwink the police every time he had a brush with law. In 1995, despite the high court rejecting his bail plea, he was not arrested. That speaks volumes for his connections in high places. "Had Telgi gone inside then, it would have sounded the death knell for him," says an investigating officer. A police officer from Pune who last year interrogated him says, "Telgi is intelligent. When we asked him why the Mumbai police did not arrest him in 1995, he said the crime branch officers there are smarter and would do nothing to kill the goose that gave them the golden eggs."

For this reason, nothing happened and Telgi continued with his activities until 1999 when the Karnataka government got wind of it while investigating an offence registered with Yeshwanthpur police station. On a tip off, the Karnataka police arrested him from Rajasthan in November 2001. Even in jail, he spoke on his cellphone to every one who mattered. Unfortunately for him, the Karnataka police recorded the conversations. The rest is history, which some of the uniformed officers from the Maharashtra police who followed him into jail would prefer to forget.

In the normal course, a man of Telgi's background whose stamp scam is turning out to be worth several thousand crores, would be a small time businessman making just about enough to keep his family happy. But he had a wildly ambitious streak that told him the life he wanted for himself needed him to leapfrog into the world of big money. And only crime, he reckoned, would give him the entry into that world. In retrospect it seems it was the only choice he had.

He was the second son of Ladasaheb Telgi, who worked as a khalasi in the railway department in the Khanapur taluka of Belgaum district in Karnataka. Telgi with his two brothers and parents stayed in a small house in Telgi village in Bijapur. "They had to struggle a lot for their livelihood," an officer from the Karnataka police says. For the record, Telgi has done his bit to erase the memory of that humble beginning. A spanking three-storeyed bungalow located a few metres away is his new address, where his mother stays.

Telgi's was a typical middle class family who survived on Ladasaheb's income till his brothers decide to pitch in. His father died when he was a student. His elder brother, Rahim, got into the transport business, while the younger one, Razim, besides making agriculture his main source of income was once the vice president of the town panchayat of Khanapur.

After finishing his graduation in commerce, Telgi tried his hand in the distribution of kerosene, according to police. But Mumbai with its prospects of money and opportunity lured him out. He was in Mumbai in the 1980s looking for money. "For an average person from Belgaum the natural option is to shift to Mumbai for a livelihood," observes a police officer connected with the investigations.

His first job was of manager at a lodge in Colaba, South Mumbai. He subsequently married a relative of the lodge owner, surely typical of a man who wanted to get ahead quickly in life, and has a 16 year-old-daughter, Sana. In later years, he would float a company in his daughter's name and finance a handful of Bollywood films.

In time Mumbai, the country's financial capital, absorbed Telgi too. "Mumbai was his breeding ground where he learnt the tricks of the trade," an officer observes. But this man was as restless as they ever got when it came to money and opportunity. Telgi sensed there was bigger money in the Gulf and moved to Saudi Arabia. The little time that he spent there, he put to good use and made contacts. When he returned to the country, which was not long after, he set up a travel agency for recruiting candidates mainly from middle income families who wanted to go to the Middle East. The timing was just right for this was in the early 1990s when opportunities were aplenty in the Gulf. As a man who would soon build a formidable reputation as a forger of government documents, Telgi went headlong into the passport racket.

But in 1993 he was arrested in a passport cheating case by the economic offences wing of the Mumbai police. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. Telgi's brief stint in jail opened up new vistas for him. "His cell mate was a man called Ramratan Soni who landed there for reusing share transfer stamps. Soni was a Gujarati settled in Mumbai and he gave Telgi a ringside view of the prospects of selling fake stamp papers," a officer says. Once out of jail, they together entered into a partnership and began 'gumming' of stamps (loosely translated it means reusing stamp paper). They realised they could make loads of money by taking advantage of the shortage of stamps and stamp paper and it worked.

It's not clear about what went wrong with the partnership, but in 1995 Telgi made a big entry into the printing, sale and circulation of fake stamp papers in Mumbai all on his own after he was granted a vendor's licence. It was a master stroke for someone who had been in jail once. It also told a small story about his political clout, a fact that keeps come across in his story. The vending licence was procured on the recommendation of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Once the business got going, Telgi also roped in his two brothers.

"Telgi's well-behaved demeanour and his uncanny knack for convincing people made him a well connected man. He speaks good English and is also proficient in Kannada, Marathi and Hindi. He used his skills well and had politicians, police officers, officials from the stamp registration department and the India Security Press in Nashik on his side," says a police officer.

But beneath that veneer of sophiscation lay a ruthless man who made people pay if they cheated him. One such man was Christopher (23), a resident of Christian Colony Khanapur. Telgi discovered that Christopher stole some stamp papers and tried to sell it discreetly. Telgi murdered him in his flat in South Mumbai on August 27, 2001 and had his body thrown in the Mahim creek.

The way he manipulated people to have his way can be gauged from his operations at the security press. He used his contacts to get machinery from the Nashik press auctioned after having them termed as junk. At the auction, he expectedly became the highest bidder and became the highest bidder for it. His purpose was to use the press to print stamp paper. He was aware that he had to do more than printing fakes to stay out of trouble. So he ensured through his contacts that the finer details of stamp paper printing, like the serial numbers for a particular month were available to him so that there was no mismatch between the original and fake ones. All those at the Nashik press who helped him have been arrested. One of them is Madhukar Kulthey, who had a key role in procuring the printing machines for Telgi.

Telgi offered fake stamp papers at a discount and even hired MBAs to market them. "Some of these employees may have known what Telgi was into, but they were afraid to come out in the open while others had to stay with him because of family compulsions," a police officer says.

He clearly loved all the good things in life, including women. But there is no clear picture as yet on his investments. For master forger Telgi, now 42, it could be many years before his trial is over.

First Published: Nov 16, 2003 00:41 IST