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Telgi?s world: thriving on confusion and secrecy

Added to the confusion about the extent of the scam is the thick cloud of secrecy that Telgi maintained in his business.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2003 13:12 IST

It is still unclear as to how much money the government has lost to the stamp scam. Police officers say that it is still being probed but are not sure whether they will ever be able to make an estimate. “It is virtually impossible to scan all the stamp papers and stamps used to figure out whether they are genuine or not. But this is the only way one can arrive at a figure,” a police officer says. Nitin Kareer, inspector general and registrar of stamps in Maharashtra says that it has to be verified in individual cases whether the stamp papers were genuine.

Figures quoted in the media put the scam at between Rs 3,000 crore and Rs 35,000 crore. But, officers say that if one calculates the value of the stamp papers and stamps seized with other materials all over the country, it could be in the vicinity of Rs 3,000 crore. Yet, no one is sure. There is also no full account of Abdul Karim Telgi’s properties, investments and bank accounts, some of which were opened in the names of his employees.

In Maharashtra, investigating authorities have identified at least 22 properties and the process is on to attach them. They have frozen 35 bank accounts across the country. Telgi’s area of operation had spread over least 10 states in the country — among them Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.

Enforcement officers in these states were initially hamstrung by the lack of expertise. Take Delhi’s case, for instance. Back in 1999, the Darya Ganj police made some arrests in connection with the sale of high denomination non-judicial stamp paper. These can only be sold by the treasury. But the investigating officers were unable to identify them as fakes and the arrested men were out in no time. ““It is nearly impossible to tell a genuine from a fake. We sent the seized stamp papers to (the India Security Press) Nashik,” says DCP, economic offences wing of Delhi Police, Dinesh Bhatt.

Added to the confusion about the extent of the scam and the difficulty in spotting fakes is the thick cloud of secrecy that Telgi maintained in his business. His core group comprised people from Khanapur, mostly poor villagers whom he trapped with the lure of money. They alone knew the real nature of the business they were in. But then they were barred from exchanging notes even among themselves.

And to make sure his men remained with him, he would pay their salaries only in parts, promising to pay the remainder at a later date. That way if anyone left him midway, he would not get his dues. For poor people it was a good enough reason to stay on.

Of course, just as Telgi used his contacts well, so did politicians and policemen squeeze money out of him. In Maharashtra, an attempt at a thorough probe was initiated in 2002, when the Pune police recovered fake stamps and stamp papers worth Rs three lakh from a car. Investigations revealed that the mastermind behind the operation was Telgi. At the time, some officers made quick money by blackmailing Telgi.

First Published: Nov 17, 2003 13:12 IST