Ram Niwas Pal of SpeakAsia had hoped that Bangalore’s IT neighbourhood of
Whitefield would provide a safe cover and anonymity for his dubious activities
The mastermind of the Rs 2,200-crore Speak Asia scam was defaulting on a monthly rent of Rs 22,000. This startling fact comes in the backdrop of the arrest of Ram Niwas Pal by the Delhi police from Bangalore three days ago. Niwas, who had taken a bungalow at Enchanted Woods in Channasandra near Whitefield six months ago, turned out to be such a dodgy tenant that the owner ordered him out, though not successfully.
Even before Niwas left the place, police swooped down on him and his game was over. Niwas’s arrest came as a big jolt to the house owner, who had no clue about the scamster’s real identity, and sent shockwaves through the gated community. “I was shocked to know that my tenant was one of the masterminds of a multi-crore scam,” the house owner, who did not want to be identified because of professional constraints.
Even other residents found it difficult to believe that a man living in their midst for the past six months had cheated over 24 lakh people, who obviously wanted to make a quick buck, across the country through fraudulent multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes.
The Delhi crime branch sleuths had been on the trail of Niwas and his brother, Ram Sumiran Pal, for the past two years after the Rs 2,200-crore scam came to light. While Sumiran was arrested recently, Niwas had started leading a new life in Bangalore after changing his name to Abhay Singh Chandel and even taking on a new appearance.
The house owner’s advocate, Vishwanath Shendge, said, “Niwas introduced himself as a businessman with an office in Whitefield and approached my client through a real-estate broker. During the first visit itself, Niwas had come along with his wife and eight-month-old son.” Shendge said he showed unusual haste, asking to shift the same day.
Though the owner told him to pay the rent through cheques, Niwas paid Rs 55,000 cash and then started avoiding him. “Neither did he pay the rent through cheques nor did he agree to execute a formal rental bond. Every time the owner sought his personal details, he would skirt the issue. Not wanting to take chances, the owner told him to vacate the bungalow,” Shendge said. But, before that could happen, he was arrested.
Apart from being the prime architect of the SpeakAsia scam (where each of the 24 lakh victims had invested Rs 11,000 with the lure of return on investment of Rs 55,000 in a year), Niwas had started several dubious MLM companies. While most victims were from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, Niwas
and his associates had companies registered in Singapore, Holland, Dubai, Italy and Brazil.
Additional commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav said, “About Rs 900 crores of the scam money has been routed to various countries through more than 200 bank accounts. The Mumbai Police (economic offences wing) and the Enforcement Directorate were also on his trail.”
When the Delhi Police started tracking him, Niwas had moved from Mumbai to Bangalore. He thought Whitefield would be a good hideout as it was full of IT professionals, and he would not arouse any suspicion. He didn’t use any mobile SIM card belonging to Karnataka circle, choosing instead to use two SIMs from Uttar Pradesh.
Delhi crime branch inspector Ashok Kumar said, “We had arrested his brother Ram Sumiran and the mobile phones of his family members were kept on surveillance. We noticed regular communication from a particular roaming number.” Cops also noticed that the phone would be switched off as soon as the talk ended.
Pal brothers and their money trail
Both accused brothers Ram Niwas Pal and Ram Sumiran Pal, used to be part of the top management of Multi- Level Marketing companies abroad. SpeakAsia, registered in Singapore, was introduced in India in 2010 by the duo with the help of one Manoj Sharma.
SpeakAsia was an online marketing survey company, which sold web subscriptions for Rs 11,000 each. In return, the investor filled survey forms for multinational firms for an annual payment of Rs 52,000. After some initial investors, it wrapped up its India operations mid- 2011. During this time, it duped over 24 lakh investors of Rs 2,276 crore. A dozen FIRs have been registered at Thane and across the country, including Vijaywada, Hyderabad, Jabalpur and Lucknow.
The business shut after registration of criminal cases in June 2011. For the past 28 months, the Economic Offences Wing, Mumbai, has been probing fraud cases against the company. Reportedly, over 210 bank accounts with over Rs 142 cr have been frozen, besides another 150 bank accounts under the scanner suspicious funds transfers.
DISMISSED FROM ARMED FORCES
Ram Niwas Pal, a resident of Badshah Nagar in Shahjahanpur district of UP, was born on December 31, 1971 in a farming family. He left his BSc course in 1991 and joined the IAF as airman (technical). He was posted to the Helicopter Unit in Jodhpur and later to Hyderabad. He left IAF in 2001 without intimation, was declared a ‘Deserter’ and faced a court martial. He was dismissed in 2004 and then started providing consultancy services to multinational banks through Smart Connect Company. In 2003, he started Mihir Virani Multi Trade Pvt. Ltd, which he later left, with a TV star of a then popular serial as managing director.