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ED recovers over 19 kg gold from bank locker of cyber thug

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New Delhi, May 6:  The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has seized 19.5 kg of gold valued at Rs 14.04 crore from the locker of a cyber fraudster maintained in the name of his mother with the Ballabgarh branch of Indian Bank in Haryana’s Faridabad on May 3, said an official on Monday.

The financial probe agency said the fraudster, identified as Punit Kumar a.k.a Puneet Maheshwari, a resident of Moti Nagar in the national capital, was arrested on April 3 from the Arrival Hall, Terminal-3 of IGI Airport.

“He was produced before the Delhi PMLA Court on the same day and granted ED custody for 12 days and is presently under judicial custody,” said the senior ED official.

The seizure follows specific intelligence indicating that Punit Kumar has hidden the proceeds of cybercrimes in the form of gold in a locker held at Indian Bank under his mother’s name.

Additionally, previous searches conducted under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, at 14 locations in February and March 2024 resulted in the confiscation of various assets.

These include foreign-made gold bars totalling eight kg valued at Rs 5.04 crore found at Punit Kumar’s premises, cash amounting to Rs 75 lakh, jewellery, high-end luxury watches, luxury vehicles like Mercedes, Audi, and Kia, along with incriminating documents and electronic devices containing evidence.

These actions are part of a money laundering scheme involving foreign-based online gaming companies exploiting Indian residents.

According to ED sources, Punit Kumar, Ashish Kakkar, who was arrested on March 2, Keshav Sood, a resident of Anand Niketan, Chanakyapuri, and Shiv Dargar, who resides in Saket and others have facilitated outward remittances derived from cybercrimes.

The ED alleged that the accused engaged in hawala transactions to various destinations worldwide, including the UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Thailand, among others.

During searches at Kakkar’s properties on May 22 and 23, last year, conducted under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), the ED recovered and seized a significant number of incriminating documents, forged/fake IDs like Aadhaar and PAN cards, digital devices for online transactions in foreign banks, laptops, computer hard disks, and pen drives containing electronic records related to numerous Foreign Outward Remittances. They also found stamps from numerous Indian and foreign registered firms, as well as blank letterheads from several such Indian and foreign firms.

The ED sources further said that Kakkar established and operated multiple shell trading firms/bogus companies across India and abroad, primarily in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai. These firms were registered in the names of various employees or hired individuals using fabricated or forged documents. They were utilised for collecting, routing, and outwardly remitting the proceeds of crime from online gaming activities conducted by foreign registered gaming websites.

It’s worth noting that sending proceeds of crime out of India from online gaming violates FEMA provisions.

Kakkar and his associates allegedly devised a distinctive modus operandi involving the creation of dummy firms using forged or fabricated documents. They then used these firms for import/export activities in Special Economic Zones and outward foreign remittances against these imports to evade FEMA restrictions. The same forged documents were also used in the operations of bank accounts opened under the names of dummy companies/firms.

Sources claim that using this modus operandi, the alleged individuals operated 188 bank accounts for 167 domestic firms/companies and 110 bank accounts for 105 foreign firms/companies. Among the foreign companies, 46 were based in China, 30 in Singapore, 18 in Hong Kong, seven in the UAE, two in Malaysia, one in Thailand, and one in Mauritius. The accused allegedly retained blank chequebooks of the dummy firms/companies after obtaining or forging signatures on blank leaves.

IANS

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