How Telgi Pulled Off Rs 3,000 Cr Stamp Paper Scam, Until He Didn’t

How Telgi pulled off a Rs 3,000 cr stamp paper scam... Until he didn’t.

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Abdul Karim Telgi, the kingpin of the multi-crore stamp paper scam, was admitted to Victoria Hospital.
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Snapshot

Seventeen years ago, a team of Bengaluru police arrested Abdul Karim Telgi from Ajmer in Rajasthan. The interrogation that followed opened a Pandora’s box on one of India’s biggest scams.

It was a case that threatened to expose several big names in Indian bureaucracy and politics. However, the investigation fizzled out over the years.

With the kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi on ventilator support in Bengaluru’s Victoria Hospital, several secrets of a great Indian scam are soon expected to be buried with him.

The Quint caught up with Sri Kumar, former DG and IGP of Karnataka, and chief of the SIT that investigated the infamous Telgi scam for an account of the investigation.

What Was the Scam?

The Telgi scam or the stamp paper scam is valued at over Rs 3,000 crore.

The scam had two aspects – creation of counterfeit documents, and creating a scarcity of authentic documents.

Telgi and his team created counterfeits of stamp papers, judicial court fee stamps, revenue stamps, special adhesive stamps, foreign bills, brokers notes, insurance policies, share transfer certificates, insurance agency stamps, and other legal documents.

Investigations revealed that he bribed the officials of the Indian Security Press to obtain government printing and perforating machines, which were used to produce the fake documents.

They also created an artificial scarcity of official documents with the help of some officers from the Indian Security Press. Documents worth several crores were dispatched to addresses that didn’t exist, in order to create this scarcity.

How Did the Scam Come to Light?

It was the arrest of two men who were transporting fake stamps papers, that snowballed into one of the biggest scams in India. These two men were arrested from Bengaluru’s Cottonpet, on 19 August 2000, based on a tip-off. During the interrogation, these men spilled the beans about a network supplying these fake documents, resulting in raids across Bengaluru.

During the raids, the cops recovered fake stamp papers and other legal documents, worth over nine crore rupees. In the investigation that followed, Abdul Kareem Telgi’s name emerged, but back in 2000, he was just one of the absconding suspects.

The Big Catch and A Special Team

It was only after the arrest of Telgi that the magnitude of the scam came to light. Based on a tip-off that Telgi was going to Ajmer in Rajasthan for a pilgrimage, a team of Bengaluru police arrested him in November 2001.

“During the first round of investigation, Telgi claimed that he was only a small part of a massive scam, involving politicians and bureaucrats. Following these revelations, the government decided to form a special team, and I was asked to head it. We were called STAMPIT,” said Sri Kumar.

The Investigation

It had been 86 days since the arrest of Telgi when team STAMPIT took over the investigation. As per rules, if a chargesheet was not filed before a court within 90 days of arrest, the accused was eligible to get bail. “We had hardly investigated the case and we were left with no options but to file a chargesheet with the information provided by the local police,” said Sri Kumar.

Once the chargesheet was filed, Telgi was sent to judicial custody, which meant the investigators couldn’t question him. The team moved the court to get permission to question Telgi in prison. It was only weeks later that the team got the permission, added Sri Kumar.

Interrogating Telgi

Telgi was a tough to nut to crack. He spoke little and answered the questions with limited details. “He was intelligent, and he never gave free information. Instead, when cornered with evidence, he confirmed or denied,” said Sri Kumar.

In fact, the STAMPIT even conducted a narco analysis on Telgi, in the hopes of getting some leads that they could investigate. “Even though he was drugged as part of the proceedings, it seemed like he was fully awake. He never revealed anything during the narco test, except for claiming that he would reveal everything. Years later, during one of the conversations, Telgi told me that he was fully aware of the questions we were asking him,” Sri Kumar added.

How Telgi Ran Scam Even From Prison

Though he was locked up, Telgi continued his operations from the prison. STAMPIT’s investigation revealed that he was using mobile phones in the early 2000s to run the operations. “We began tracking the phone calls to gather evidence. However, he always had the knowledge that we were tracking him. Whenever we identified a mobile number he was using, he would change it,” the officer said.

By changing mobile numbers, Telgi was exploiting police procedures to his advantage. “Every time we had to intercept a mobile phone number, we had to get permission and the process took several days. He was aware of this loophole and kept changing the mobile numbers, so we couldn’t track his communications,” pointed out Sri Kumar.

In 2017, the High Court convicted two prison officials for supplying mobile phones to Telgi inside the prison.

First Police Investigation With Dedicated Website

STAMPIT was one of the first agencies in the country to launch a website to disseminate and obtain information about a case. The investigation of the scam had three major parts – investigation of the scam, investigation of operations from the prison, and investigation of Rs 55 lakh seized from Belgaum, which is believed to belong to Telgi.

A website named www.stampit.info was launched to gather information about the three cases. The website was started with the idea of inviting public to give confidential information about the three cases that Telgi was involved in. The website also published information about the case for other investigating agencies and the media. However, the team received more abuses than intelligence on the website, said Sri Kumar.

CBI Takes Over

While the STAMPIT was gathering more names and evidence, a decision was made to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The rationale was that they were already investigating other cases involving Telgi, and cases in Karnataka were to be handed over to them.

According to Sri Kumar, after the CBI took over the case, the investigation never went beyond what was already covered by the STAMPIT. The biggest fish, as claimed by Telgi, were never identified or punished.

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