The next time an unbelievably lucrative business prospect falls in your lap unasked, with air tickets to boot, it could be a good idea to do something other than pinch yourself to check if it's real: run a background check, maybe?
Ghatkopar police are investigating an extortion racket, in which unsuspecting marketing professionals are lured to Nagaland on false pretexts, and tortured unsparingly till they cough up valuables and cash, and also, curiously, recommend the next suitable candidate for the abductors to victimise.
Tricked, conned, looted: The abductors took away Rajendra Khanvilkar's
jewellery, mobile phone, laptop, PAN and ATM cards. His wife also had
to sell her ornaments to pay his ransom of Rs 50,000. pic/shadab khan
When Rajendra Gopinath Khanvilkar was invited to Nagaland to try his hand at a Multi Level Marketing (MLM) venture, the unwitting 43-year-old was suitably euphoric.
The free air ticket was an additional windfall. An unsuspecting Khanvilkar packed his bags in a jiffy and reached Nagaland, only to be kidnapped at equal speed by the group who had ensnared him. After a harrowing three days of inhuman physical torture and financial depletion, Khanvilkar was set free on August 29.
"This is my second shot at life. I never thought I would make it back to my family in Mumbai. They tortured me brutally for three days -- they would hold me at gunpoint and flog me with bamboos continuously. My wounds are still fresh," said Khanvilkar, recalling his horrifying experience.
In his statement made to the Ghatkopar police, Khanvilkar revealed that his abductors would ensnare affluent people from the heartland by luring them to Nagaland with lucrative job offers. Once the victim walked into their trap, he would be subjected to brutal torture, and forced to pay large sums as ransom. He would also be forced to oil the wheels of their trade by being compelled to name a professional associate, whom the abductors could trap in a similar manner.
On August 26, Khanvilkar was in Kolkata on business with his friend Ramesh Baria. Baria received a phone call from Nagaland, offering him what appeared to be a money-spinning business venture. As Baria was busy, he deputed Khanvilkar for the trip. Khanvilkar reached Dimapur Airport on August 28, only to be whisked away by his abductors to a bungalow just a few kilometers away, where he was held hostage for the next three days.
"Four men kidnapped me, and locked me up in a bungalow. Handcuffing me, they started thrashing me with bamboo sticks," said Khanvilkar. A few hours into the nightmare, Khanvilkar realised that Shrikant, another abductee, had given the Naxalites the lead to Baria.
Shrikant was released from custody on August 27, after coughing up Rs 2.6 lakh as ransom.
The abductors robbed Khanvilkar of Rs 28,000 that was in his possession, his mobile phone, gold chain, ring, laptop, PAN card, and ATM cards. At their behest, a frantic Khanvilkar phoned his wife and requested her to deposit a ransom of Rs 1 lakh at a bank account. When his wife managed to eke out Rs 50,000 even after selling her ornaments, the dissatisfied abductors shopped for electronic appliances worth Rs 55,000, using his ATM cards.
On the hunt for more victims, the accused then forced Khanvilkar to ring up Baria and invite him to Nagaland on the same pretext. On August 29, a clueless Baria reached Nagaland, only to be kidnapped, just like Khanvilkar had been three days back. Baria faced the brunt of the abductors' wrath when they discovered that he had no money with him.
Khanvilkar and Baria were released on August 29. By then, Khanvilkar had been depleted of cash and valuables worth over Rs 3.5 lakh. But his nightmare did not end even after his release. On September 2, Khanvilkar was coerced into depositing an additional Rs 50,000 in the account of Govind Shah, one of the accused in the case. "The kidnapper threatened to sell me to another group, who would remove my kidneys if I failed to pay up," said Khanvilkar.
On September 3, Khanvilkar lodged a complaint with the Ghatkopar police, requesting that action be taken to terminate the racket. A traumatised Baria, a resident of Mira Road, has refused to divulge any information on the incident, only saying, "The incident has affected my business a lot. I have to start all over again."
MiD DAY tried to call the phone numbers through which the group had contacted the victims, but received no response.
"I have no idea about Khanvilkar's application. Let me check," said C V Zendekar, Senior Inspector, Ghatkopar police station.