Shocking: Indian nationality for sale, at just Rs 5,000

Updated: Dec 26, 2016, 11:33 IST | Anurag Kamble |

Cops arrest master forger Latif Azeem Gazhi, who used to get Bangladeshis Indian 'citizenship' documents for a mere Rs 5,000 from the unlikeliest of places right outside a courtroom

Latif Azeem Gazhi. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Latif Azeem Gazhi. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

It was the perfect disguise till it lasted. Nobody suspects a 62-year-old gravedigger in Navi Mumbai of running an illegal immigration ring. But underneath it all, Latif Azeem Gazhi was a shark, looking for his next kill — Bangladeshis at the Esplanade Court and selling them the ‘Indian citizenship’: for a measly sum of Rs 5,000.

According to the Azad Maidan police that made the arrest, Gazhi’s modus operandi was fairly simple: with the help of 3-4 associates, he approached the illegal Bangladeshis who were arrested for staying in India without valid documents when they were brought to the Esplanade/Killa court for their hearings, and offered them his services.

Services basically include sourcing all the documents that help them prove in court that they are Indian citizens, not Bangladeshi nationals. “Gazhi is a known name in the illegal immigrants’ circuit, especially Bangladeshis living in Mumbai. He usually comes into the picture when it becomes imperative for them to prove their nationality to prevent being deported,” said an officer from Azad Maidan police station.

The scale of the scam
But how did Gazhi manage to get access to the arrested accused? According to the police, he was in cahoots with some advocates who would get `3,000 for their role, to mainly get their thumb imprint when in custody and produce the forged documents — Birth Certificates, School Leaving Certificate or Income Certificate from Hasnabad Gram Panchayat, North 24 Pargana in West Bengal — in court to make their case. On the basis of these documents all the accused secured bail. Till date, Special Branch of Mumbai police has connected 65 cases of suspected Bangladeshi nationals with Gazhi.

A pattern detected
However, a detailed scrutiny of their documents suddenly pointed at a pattern in play. To investigate, senior inspector Vijay Kadam formed a team comprising assistant police inspector Subhash Chavhan, sub-inspector Vitthal Pisal and PSI Ananda Shivne. Here’s where the similarities began to pile up.

First, documents proving their nationality were produced while the accused were serving jail sentence. “We found a pattern in the bail process. All accused got their documents from the same two-three advocates and middlemen,” said an officer, explaining, “We started working on this lead. We also inquired at the gram panchayat whose letterhead was used, and found that none of the officials had issued such certificates.”

Further examination also revealed that many of the accused had given their thumbprint when in custody to their advocate, who later secured bail.

“This meant that the suspects were approached by the group when they were brought to the Killa Court. We roped in a few informers to keep a tab on new Bangladeshi suspects while they were brought to the court. One such informer got back to us with a lead that the kingpin of this operation is from Koparkhairane, Navi Mumbai,” said an officer close to the investigations.

Following the revelation, the branch filed complaint against all the 65 suspected bangladeshi national on March 1.

Was the target right?
The police said, “We then started keeping a watch on Gazhi. We thought we were targeting the wrong man; he was a 60-year-old who dug graves for a living. He even lived near the cemetery in a shanty. So we retraced our steps but to our surprise, our informer was confident that it was Gazhi we were looking for.” However, when they were trailing him, they found that three-four people were always at his place at any given time. “Then last week, we caught him red-handed at the Killa court when he was negotiating a deal with a Bangladeshi suspect. We took Gazhi to his house and found stamps and some forged documents from his shanty” said Vijay Kadam, senior inspector of Azad Maidan Police station, adding, “He was produced in court and remanded to police custody till Monday.”

Case so far
Till now, Azad Maidan police has registered an FIR against 65 people with Gazhi as the main accused. “They have been booked under IPC section 420 (cheating), 465 (Forgery), 467 (Forgery of valuable security, will, etc.), 468 (Forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using forged documents original) and 34 (common intention). Many of these 65 accused have fled after securing bail. “We have arrested 22, who were in judicial custody when this forgery was revealed,” said an officer, adding, “The accused can get maximum 10 years imprisonment for forgery, 2-3 years for other section. After completion of sentences, they will be deported to Bangladesh by Special Branch.”

Forged documents
Latif Gazhi would frequent Killa Court and offer his services to illegal Bangladeshis. He arranged for fake birth certificates, school leaving certificates and income certificates from Hasnabad Gram Panchayat in West Bengal.

Who is Gazhi?
Gazhi, a Bangladeshi, had come to India in 1971 after the Indo-Pak war. He became an Indian national and started working in Navi Mumbai. A few years ago, he is reported to have stabbed a man who objected to his giving work and refuge to Bangladeshis.

65
Identified cases of illegal immigration attributed to Gazhi

10
No of months that the cops trailed Gazhi

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