“This is the first case involving a cybercrime in Pune, in which we have invoked MCOCA provisions,” Pune police commissioner Amitabh Gupta said on Friday. The move is aimed at curbing the loan app menace and related crimes, he added.
“The nine men, led by Dheeraj Bhagat Punekar (36) of Solapur, are part of an organized gang which has been trapping loan seekers and harassing, threatening and extorting money from them over the last 10 years. The gang would lure investment through bogus advertisements on online platforms and use the crime proceeds to bag government contracts and cheat the authorities,” Gupta told reporters.
There are three complaints lodged against Punekar and others, including issuing rape threats to a woman and harassing victims in Solapur, Hinjewadi and Shivajinagar in 2022. After Punekar was arrested in the loan application case, his questioning revealed that he was running an organised crime for obtaining pecuniary benefits. We have booked all nine under the stringent law,” he said.
The police chief said that due to harassment by the gang, two people had ended their lives and an elderly woman in Warje Malwadi was murdered recently. “We have taken a serious note that the victims have been constantly receiving threats and extortion calls from the loan app executives. Harassing and troubling victims and extorting money is an organised crime, which needs to be dealt with seriously,” he added.
State criminal investigation department’s (CID) superintendent of police (technical service) Sambhaji Kadam told TOI, “Invoking MCOCA in a loan app harassment case is good, but a lot needs to be done as such crimes affect a wide section of society. Police need to identify and bust hotspots of such gangs, which have a nexus in various parts of the country, to ensure such crimes are tackled more effectively.”
Cyber expert Gaurav Jachak said, “The loan application gang is the biggest-ever racket unearthed by the city police. Under the racket, many people are involved in handling bank accounts and calling up victims. MCOCA has been rightly invoked in the case.”
Meanwhile, Gupta said the police had arrested nine people each in two loan application cases lodged with the Pune cyber police. “In the first case, investigations revealed that the suspects were operating from Bengaluru, Solapur, Nashik and Jalgaon. We are examining evidence in the second case to see if the suspects can be booked under MCOCA,” he said, adding that more arrests were expected.
The eight other suspects booked under MCOCA are Swapnil Nagtilak (29) and Pramod Ramsing (43) of Solapur, Shrikrishna Gaikwad (26) of Hadapsar, Samuel Kumar (40), Sayyed Pasha (23) and Mubarak Baig (22) from Bengaluru, and Mujeeb Kandiyal (42) and Mohammad Maniyat (32) from Kozhikode in Kerala.
Deputy commissioner of police (cyber) Bhagyashree Navtake told TOI, “Some of the suspects knew each other. They got friendly with others online and recruited them. The kingpin distributed work to others on an areawise basis.” She said converting crores of rupees into crypto currency and then transferring them into banks in foreign countries amounts to cheating the government.