Mumbai: ATS busts illegal call exchange and nabs HSC dropout
Govandi man travelled all over Asia - from China to Gulf countries - and set up a parallel system to route VoIP calls from the Middle-East; shockingly, he was out on bail for defrauding the state of R50 crore by similar means just 18 months ago
The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Saturday arrested seven people for running an illegal telephone exchange that had not just caused multi-crore losses to the Indian exchequer but also posed a massive security threat. The mastermind was identified as Nazim Khan, 27, and was arrested for the second time in two years for the same crime. After his release from jail in the first case, he apparently restarted his illegal telephone exchange.
Khan, an HSC dropout, began operating a cable network business in Govandi and Mankhurd area around 2017 and eventually began providing internet services, too. Sources from ATS said that Khan being a computer wizard, wanted to make fast money out of his technical knowledge and thus researched the internet to find ways of doing so. On the web, he came across certain phone-based communication systems which he studied thoroughly and jumped into this business.
He then visited China where he received training of running a discrete telephone exchange independently. He made his next trip to the Gulf countries where he met locals who were into similar businesses and tied-up with them. Khan further undertook training to set up his telephone exchange with the help of a Bangladesh-based software company and created his own calling software. He made an application named ITL available on play store for download. He had even applied for an ISP (internet service provider) licence and was on the verge of getting it when he got arrested (in 2017) in a joint operation conducted by the ATS and Mumbai crime branch. In around four to five months of operating his business in 2017, he had caused a loss of R50 crore to the Indian government.
ATS caught 7 accused from various places in the city and seized some equipment, too
Khan had rented nine houses to run both his legal and illegal businesses. In the recent case, Khan and six others were arrested at five different locations in Mumbai. ATS DCP Vinay Rathod said that seven of his teams were dispatched at these five locations — Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, Masjid, Dongri, Panvel and Kalyan. "The accused used to route international Voic over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls (especially from Gulf countries) through local mobile numbers," Rathod said. "After Khan's release too, he had caused a loss of R37.5 crore to the government in a matter of four to five months and we are investigating into this," DCP Rathod added.
New modus operandi
This time, however, Khan had used another modus operandi using an advanced technique called the PRI line. A PRI (Primary Rate Interface) line can receive or send 30 calls simultaneously. "This is an end-to-end digital circuit. It is a form of ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) line which is a telecommunication standard that enables traditional phone lines to carry voice, data and video traffic, among others," DCP Rathod explained. These kind of lines go untracked by government agencies, thus posing a security threat.
According to sources, anti-social elements across the world including IS, separatists, and other terror groups use such telephone exchanges to avoid being tracked. Many callers across the world too use these service to make calls to India at cheaper rates, especially from the Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. Some intelligence input from Jammu and Kashmir had given the ATS this lead after which the teams were formed to nab the accused.
How it worked?
Since international calling rates are expensive, people living in UAE prefer installing an application — created by the accused - and buy a calling card to activate this application to make calls to India. The calling card needs to be recharged to make international calls at cheaper rates — 20 paise/minute. An officer privy to the investigation revealed that one needs a balance amount on the calling card to be able to make calls using this.
"The accused had generated a special code for every country. In a bid to make calls from UAE to India, they would dial # followed by the receiver's number which gets diverted through VOIP to a server in UAE which further connects to India's server. In Mumbai, the accused had installed SIMBOX where the calls would be transferred from India's server. SIMBOX is a tool which houses 32 SIM cards having different Indian numbers. The receiver in India would get a ring from one of these 32 numbers," said the officer.
No. of houses accused had rented to run businesses
Loss to exchequer since the accused came out on bail
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe
Raj Thackeray calls for peace, gets support from cousin Uddhav Thackeray