Indian crime officials being probed in major Bitcoin scam

Several officers from the Indian Crime Branch, including an Inspector General of Police (IGP), are being probed by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in connection with a Bitcoin scam.

The SIT has issued a notice to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sandeep Patil, head of the Crime Branch at the time, to clarify discrepancies in the investigation into a Bitcoin scam. 

The scam involves hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, also known as Sriki and his associate Robin Khandelwal. Sikri, the mastermind behind the scam, hacked a cryptocurrency exchange, Unocoin, in 2017 and stole 60.6 Bitcoins worth ₹1.14 crore (approximately $137,000) at the time. He also hacked various other online platforms and laundered the funds using cryptocurrency.

Sriki then traded 150 Bitcoins worth ₹5.5 crore via Khandelwal. The duo was initially arrested in 2020 on charges of ordering drugs on the internet using Bitcoin.

According to a first information report (FIR) filed by the SIT in January, four former Crime Branch officers, Sridhar Poojar, Prashanth Babu, Chandradhar SR, and Lakshmikanthaiah, along with Santhosh Kumar, a private cyber expert, are being charged for illegal confinement, breach of trust by a public servant, and destruction of evidence related to the Bitcoin scam. 

The allegations include manipulating the investigation to cover up the misappropriation of Bitcoins recovered during the probe. 

The investigators initially claimed to have found 31 Bitcoins worth 9 crores from Sikri and 0.08627702 BTC from Khandelwal. However, these Bitcoins could not be found.

The explanation provided was that Sriki had “manipulated the Bitcoin core application to mislead the investigation.” Despite this claim, the Crime Branch failed to investigate further into the details of how and when the manipulation occurred.

Additionally, the SIT’s findings indicate that Inspector Chandradhar took Khandelwal into custody and coerced him to transfer money from his account to the crypto exchange Wazirx to purchase Bitcoins. 

This was allegedly done to compensate for the Bitcoins that the Crime Branch could not recover from Khandelwal, who had exhausted his crypto resources.

The SIT is also investigating Rishab, the son of an Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), for alleged involvement in the scam. He has been accused of using illegal money acquired through Bitcoin trading. The SIT alleges that he received a cheque for ₹40 lakh during the period when Sriki was active and that he used this money to purchase a car.

The development comes as India has seen a rise in cryptocurrency-related scams over the years. Earlier this month, the nation’s Enforcement Directorate cracked down on two major scams and seized over $30 million.
Prior to that, the ED collaborated with the FBI to take down a $360 million drug trafficking ring powered by cryptocurrencies.

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