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False tip-off leaves NIA red-faced after angadia cash bust

After the city witnessed what is being touted as its biggest raid -- in terms of the haul’s worth -- on four angadia trucks laden with cash and diamonds near Mumbai Central station on Monday night, police sources say the bust is likely to come a cropper.

For, the National Investigating Agency (NIA), which conducted the raid in collaboration with the Income Tax (I-T) department, was apparently misled by an informer to believe that the trucks were laden with counterfeit currency meant to fund terror activities. Based on the information, the NIA, meant to combat terror, intercepted the trucks near Mumbai Central station, but realised it was a mishit, I-T sources said.

Addressing the media, Director General of Income Tax (Investigations) Swatantra Kumar said, “So far no fake currencies have been found in the cash we recovered. Angadias (local couriers) are welcome to come and collect their consignments of money or jewellery from us after submitting valid documents. But we want to check if all the money is accounted for and whether they have entries in their tax books for it.”

Even as the tip-off fell through, investigators have yet not been able to ascertain whether the cash and jewellery, running into a hundred crores, is illegitimate.

A businessman clued up with the angadia trade told MiD DAY, “Hawala courier business is 70 years old. While majority of the transactions are legal, a handful of angadias are involved in hawala operations. Of the entire consignment that has been recovered in the raid, only a few items would be unaccounted.”

Speaking to MiD DAY, an official for Patel Amritbhai Kantilal and Company, one of the couriers embroiled in the foray, said, “We just take commission for the goods that we transport. We don’t have any idea about the parcel’s contents.”

In the past, lack of coordination between agencies has bungled several sensitive cases, including that of the triple bomb blasts. In the absence of a central coordinating body, the raiding agencies are often misguided by vested personal interests.

The big haul
The I-T department has seized the four trucks carrying 102 packets of cash, jewellery and diamonds. Officials were in the process of assessing the worth of the haul at the time of writing. Sources said they had managed to open around 50 of the bags until last night, and tentative value of their contents was already running into Rs 100 crore.

“We have deployed around 50 persons to count the cash, and are taking help from experts to ascertain the value of jewellery and diamonds,” said Swantantra Kumar.

The department has enlisted the help of the Reserve Bank of India and called for three machines to count the cash. Kumar said “This (angadia) is not the right mode of transferring money. We think the money is not accounted for and that’s why it was being transferred this way.”

Some 40 people who were carrying the cash in three trucks have been detained. They have told I-T officials that the cash was on its way to small-time jewellers in Gujarat, who carry out work for the merchants here. It was supposed to be loaded up in the goods compartment of a train at Mumbai Central.

“Every packet has the name of the sender and the intended recipient. We will question them all. If they give us valid proofs, we will release the money. Otherwise, action will be initiated against them,” said Kumar.

On police watch
Ironically, the consignment was being escorted by Mumbai policemen, who claim it is routine practice to provide protection to these couriers to avert robbery.

DCP Nisar Tamboli (Zone II) said, “After the I-T raid on angadias, a lot of queries have been raised about police escorting them. I will clear a few facts. For the last 15 years or so, an escort from a local police station is usually provided to these couriers as they carry big sums of cash and other valuables. This is done to prevent violent robberies and dacoity.

Murders have been committed in the past over this.” Five years ago, an angadia had been stabbed during an attempted robbery. “The incident frightened the trading community and they began pooling resources to send parcels to Gujarat in bulk,” said a courier.

Sources from the informal courier network claimed that police officers are paid off handsomely for their patronage. 

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