Traffickers working in sync with foreign agents: NIA - Hindustan Times
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Traffickers working in sync with foreign agents: NIA

May 29, 2024 07:02 AM IST

As part of the investigation, the NIA, in coordination with police of several states including the Gurugram Police raided multiple locations on Monday and arrested five members of the trafficking ring including social media influencer – Balwant alias Bobby Kataria

New Delhi/Gurugram: Siddharth Chandrashekhar Yadav, 24, who lives in a chawl in Thane, was elated he was going to work in Thailand and get a handsome salary of 65,000 per month with his food and lodging taken care of. To get the job, Yadav had to initially pay 50,000 to an agent in Mumbai.

Gurugram Police arrested social media influencer Bobby Kataria on charges of human trafficking on Monday. He was produced before a court and sent to three-day police remand. (Parveen Kumar//HT PHOTO)
Gurugram Police arrested social media influencer Bobby Kataria on charges of human trafficking on Monday. He was produced before a court and sent to three-day police remand. (Parveen Kumar//HT PHOTO)

As soon as he, along with a girl from Pune, reached Thailand in December 2022, their passports were taken away. They found there were many other Indians like themselves present over there. Two Indian agents -- Godfrey Thomas Alvares and Sunny Gonsalves – gave them local SIM cards, an USA SIM card and phones and explained the job to them – which was to create fake IDs and profiles with assumed foreign names on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok and chat with users.

The target users were all from the United States, Europe and Canada. The uses of cryptocurrency and how to go about investing in them had to be explained to them by the staff. “We used to talk to approximately 200-250 customers every day, convincing them to download a cryptocurrency related app. The users could only see profit on the app, but they didn’t make any money,” said Yadav.

Like Yadav, there were thousands of young people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Nepal and other countries who worked at the huge IT hub kind of campus.

“It is a big campus of scamsters. In one of the buildings there, 1,500-2,000 youngsters worked and were involved in e-commerce fraud. They lured people to invest in various schemes. The campus had 10-12 buildings,” he adds.

For about two months, when Yadav worked there as a ‘cyber slave’, he didn’t receive any salary and was forced to work for 12-14 hours, with agents threatening to kill them if they disclosed any information or contacted the authorities.

But Yadav got lucky and he was rescued from Laos by the Indian Embassy. He is currently at home, but jobless and has given statements to several agencies including the Mumbai Police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In fact, around 400 Indian citizens who were scammed into working as cyber slaves in Cambodia, have been brought back.

However, investigators say there are several hundred who are stuck in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and other regions where they are forced to work with cyber scamsters.

As part of the investigation, the NIA, in coordination with police of several states including the Gurugram Police raided multiple locations on Monday and arrested five members of the trafficking ring including social media influencer – Balwant alias Bobby Kataria. Others arrested include -- Manish Hingu of Vadodara, Pahlad Singh of Gopalganj, Nabialam Ray of south west Delhi, and Sartaj Singh of Chandigarh.

The federal agency took over the larger conspiracy probe on May 13 and is currently looking for several such agents.

A spokesperson for NIA said late on Monday evening that the organized trafficking syndicate is engaged “in luring and trafficking Indian youth to foreign countries on false promises of legal employment”.

“The young people were being forced to work in fake call centres in Laos, Golden Triangle SEZ, and Cambodia, among other places, as part of the racket, controlled and operated mainly by foreign nationals. They were coerced into undertaking illegal activities online, such as credit card fraud, investments in crypto currency using fake applications, honey trapping etc.”

“Investigations have further revealed that the arrested accused were coordinating with traffickers operating from across the international border to facilitate illegal border-crossing of Indian youth from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to Laos SEZ. They were working at the behest of foreign agents belonging to well organised syndicates that were active in several districts of Maharashtra, UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana etc. These syndicates were further connected to operatives based in other parts of India, as well as foreign countries like UAE, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos SEZ etc,” the spokesperson added.

The Central government has already, on May 16, constituted a high-level inter-ministerial committee under the chairpersonship of the special secretary (Internal Security), ministry of home affairs (MHA) to look into cyber criminals involved in such trafficking. The committee, comprising officials from the ministries of external affairs, finance, and electronics and information technology, department of telecommunications, CBI, NIA, CBIC, and department of post, has met twice till date.

The Gurugram Police on Tuesday produced Balwant Kataria alias Bobby Kataria before the court and sent him to a three-day police remand.

Karan Goel, deputy commissioner of police (West), said that the teams have recovered 20 lakh cash from Kataria’s possession and four mobile phones that were used in committing fraud along with documents of many victims. “A team from the NIA questioned Kataria and we are conducting a thorough investigation into the human trafficking nexus. We have discovered the role of Manju Kundu, Kataria’s partner who recorded and uploaded videos on social media platforms along with Kataria,” he said.

Goel said Kataria used to upload videos offering special packages for USA, Canada, and other countries for couples and job visas. “Since he has multiple accounts and is popular as a social media influencer, people fell prey to such videos and ended up losing lakhs,” he said.

The two victims -- Arun Kumar and Manish Tomar from UP told the police that there were hundreds of unemployed men who had visited Kataria’s office and had paid registration fees of 2,000 to start the process. “I was told that I have to stay at Laos for a few days and then I would be sent to Singapore. Later, we entered an office in a building in Vientiane where security personnel were deployed outside and men were seen making calls. No one had a smile on their faces, they had bruises on their faces and it was evident that they were assaulted recently,” he said.

Tomar said they wanted all the victims to be rescued and sent home. “There are many offices where Indians are being held captive and they are not even paid initially. They only pay salaries to those who willingly start working for them,” he said.

Goel said they have identified a few more suspects who were connected to Kataria and their details will be scanned by the cybercrime police team based on which more arrests will take place. “Raids will be conducted at Kataria’s newly opened offices in Rajasthan and Faridabad where he used to frequently visit and meet people who were keen on going abroad. We are questioning to know who was funding his offices,” he said.

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