While high-profile ministers and bureaucrats were rushing to shove dubious documents under the proverbial carpet during the Adarsh scam investigations, a group of swindlers were using it as an ideal excuse to continue duping their victims. On Friday, cops nabbed Jagriti Panchal and Suresh Mane for cheating over 70 people of a total sum of Rs 1 crore, on the pretext of helping them obtain flats under the chief minister’s quota. The chief accused in the case, Ashwin Panchal, and another accomplice Jitendra Panchal, are both on the run. Ashwin and Jagriti are married.
According to cops, the gang took advantage of the scam to explain the delay in construction of the flats, and informed their investors that their files were stuck at the then CM Ashok Chavan’s office due to the ongoing Adarsh controversy. They avoided their investors for several months, till one victim called their bluff and registered an FIR at the Dahisar police station.
Ashwin allegedly told his investors that as Chavan was embroiled in the scam, he was not signing files pertaining to real estate development, which in turn was leading to the delay. “He said, ‘file to unki table par padi hai’ (the file is lying unattended on his table),” said Rajesh Pujari, one of the duped investors.
According to police reports, Jitendra, the other absconding accused, is employed as a senior section engineer in the Lower Parel railway workshop. In June 2009, Jitendra informed his colleagues that his relative Ashwin was constructing a building in Dahisar. He misinformed them that since the building was being constructed under the banner of an NGO Vishwakarma Associates, the building cost would only be a fraction of market rates: they would have to pay Rs 1,818 per square feet and not the usual Rs 4,500 per square feet.
He then called for a meeting at the workshop and collected Rs 50 from each of the 40 workshop workers who attended the meeting. “Ashwin Panchal told us that MNS leaders Bala Nandgaonkar, Pravin Darekar and Prakash Darekar are their hidden partners,” said Ajay Parab, one of the investors. He added that in one of his visits to Ashwin’s Dahisar office, he had seen a photograph of him posing with Pravin Darekar, hanging on the wall.
Word of the cheap flats spread like wildfire, and gradually, over 70 people, 10 of whom were railway employees, booked flats. On October 19, 2009 Ashwin even performed bhoomi poojan at Mhatre compound in Dahisar (land survey number 51, city survey number 2553), even though the plot belonged to another party. As days passed, construction work refused to take off, and soon investors began to feel uneasy. They approached Ashwin, who parried their queries by hiding behind the excuse that Ashok Chavan was not signing files due to the brouhaha over the Adarsh scam.
On further delay, Ashwin started offering the excuse that the MNS leaders had been demanding more money. Fed up and frustrated, Parab met Prakash Darekar, asking him if he was or had a partner in the project. Darekar appeared clueless, and denied having any links to the Panchals. He then advised Parab to approach the police.
Parab approached Dahisar police on December 23 last year and registered an FIR under Sections 406, 420 and 34 of the IPC against the accused.
“We have arrested Jagriti Panchal and are searching for her husband Ashwin. The accused promised low-budget flats and cheated several persons,” said Pritam Banawali, assistant police inspector of Dahisar police station.