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news details
ED nabs fraudster at IGI airport
4/9/2024 11:15:05 PM

New Delhi, Apr 9:

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has arrested Delhi-based cyber fraudster Punit Kumar for his role as an important kingpin within a syndicate responsible for orchestrating a series of cybercrimes and online gaming schemes across India between 2020 and 2024, amounting to huge illicit gains of Rs 4,978 crore, all of which have been siphoned off abroad.
Also known as Puneet Maheshwari, the cyber fraudster, who is a resident of Delhi’s Moti Nagar, was arrested on April 3 at the arrival hall of Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport in the national capital while travelling from Nepal, the agency said on Tuesday.
ED said that Kumar’s involvement primarily revolves around defrauding the general public through various cyber fraud schemes, subsequently laundering the proceeds of crime, and siphoning off the same out of India.
“He devised a distinctive method of defrauding individuals, utilising servers located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to orchestrate scams, with a parallel system established in India to support the syndicate’s operations in the UAE,” ED said.
The agency produced Kumar before a Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court here in the city soon after the arrest and got his custody for a period of nine days until April 9.
ED initiated an investigation on the basis of various First Information Reports registered throughout India, including Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Chandigarh.
“Punit Kumar is one of the important kingpins within a syndicate responsible for orchestrating a series of cybercrimes and online gaming schemes across India between the period 2020 and 2024, amounting to huge illicit gains of Rs. 4,978 crore, all of which have been siphoned off abroad. Since the date of the search conducted at his premise, Punit Kumar had been avoiding summons issued by the ED and had tried to remain untraceable,” said the ED in a statement.
Prior to this, another accused, Ashish Kakkar, was also arrested by the ED on March 2 this year from a hotel in Gurugram. Ashish Kakkar is currently in judicial custody.
ED also executed search and seizure operations on May 22-23 last year across 25 premises located in Delhi (11), Gujarat (7), Maharashtra (4), Madhya Pradesh (2), and Andhra Pradesh (1) as part of an investigation into foreign-registered online gaming companies and websites operating in India.
Further, similar actions were carried out at 14 premises in February and March this year. These operations had led to the seizure of various assets, including foreign-made gold bars weighing a total of eight kilograms valued at Rs 5.04 crore (from the premises of Punit Kumar), cash amounting to Rs 75 lakh, jewellery, high-end luxury watches, luxury cars such as Mercedes, Audi, and Kia, as well as incriminating documents and electronic devices containing evidence.
Numerous fake PAN cards and Aadhar cards utilised in the establishment of shell entities (which were used for layering proceeds of crime and siphoning off the same abroad), mobile devices employed for managing bank accounts of these entities, and office stamps were also seized during these operations.
To evade detection, individuals involved in these activities have resorted to using remote-based servers and laptops accessed through remote desktop applications like Anydesk and TeamViewer. In this instance, two such remotely accessed laptops were recovered and seized from the premises of the entity providing server services, located far from the actual operational sites.
The ED investigation revealed that these online gaming companies and websites are incorporated in small island nations such as Curacao, Malta, and Cyprus.
“The fraudulent activities encompass various forms such as investment fraud, part-time job fraud, online shopping fraud and loan fraud. One of the prevalent methods utilised involves enticing individuals with guaranteed profits against investments, gradually leading them into fraudulent schemes where they invest their life savings,” stated the ED.
Subsequently, when individuals demand returns, they are coerced into further payments under the pretext of taxes or processing fees, until their invested funds are depleted, said the agency.
Following the defrauding of the general public, the ill-gotten gains are layered and accumulated within bank accounts controlled by Kumar, Kakkar, and their associates, before being transferred out of India as foreign remittances.
“These individuals have established over 200 companies and firms, where Ashish Kakkar and Punit Kumar serve as the beneficial owners, utilising forged documents to exert complete control over banking transactions. Despite not holding official positions within these companies, Punit Kumar and Ashish Kakkar monitor and control every transaction through loyal associates,” said the ED.
The ED investigation further revealed that Kumar, Kakkar, and others have facilitated outward remittances from the proceeds generated through cybercrimes.
“For the purpose of siphoning off the proceeds of crime, they imported a huge number of consignments declaring high-value items (e.g., rose oil, solar panel machinery) from Dubai, Hong Kong, China, etc. in various Special Economic Zones such as SEZ Mundra, SEZ Kandla, etc. and subsequently exported the same from the SEZs themselves.
“They have sent outward remittances against imports to the tune of Rs 4978 crore but no remittances have been realised against the export of goods from SEZ. In other words, they are also involved in circular trading by way of import-export for the purpose of Hawala transactions,” added the ED.
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