TRP scam: Mumbai police book journalists, editorial team of Republic TV

Updated: 24 October, 2020 07:10 IST | Faizan Khan, Vishal Singh | Mumbai

FIR against staff of Republic TV for discrediting police's probe in a show

Harish Patil, one of the arrested accused suspected to own a shell firm. Cops looking for another accused
Harish Patil, one of the arrested accused suspected to own a shell firm. Cops looking for another accused

A key accused in the TRP scam was arrested by the Crime Branch SIT on Thursday. The accused, identified as Harish Patil, 45, owns what is suspected to be a shell company. It was being used by a channel to transfer money that the accused utilised to manipulate TRPs. The cops have launched a massive manhunt for  another key accused in the case. 

In another development, the NM Joshi police registered an FIR against the journalists and editorial team of Republic TV under the Police (Incitement to disaffection) Act, 1922, on Friday, after a show aired on it alleged a rift in the police force.

Multiple transactions

According to Mumbai Crime Branch officials, the links to the arrested accused were found while examining the bank accounts of an accused channel. There were multiple bogus transactions with Patil's company and the news channel. "The accused owns seven companies and one of them is Capslock Digital Solutions Private Limited whose registered address is in Andheri, but it doesn't exist. We found several bogus transactions with the company suspected to be a dummy for one of the accused channels.
The money was sent to Patil and then transferred to another wanted accused's company," said an officer from Mumbai Crime Branch.

The wanted accused, identified as Abhishek alias Amit, gave the money to people ranked lower in the chain, such Vishal Bhandari, Umesh Mishra, etc. who paid households to watch specific news channels.

'A mysterious person'

"He is a mysterious person as there is no mobile phone registered in his name. He uses the cell phone number of a person who died three years back and another phone used by him is registered in the name of another arrested accused," the officer said. "We have identified him (Abhishek) through CCTV footage at a hotel where he stayed. He has different identities. He has contacts with several news channels including Republic TV," the officer added further.

Vishal Bhandari taken into custody by the Crime Branch in the TRP case. File pic/Bipin Kokate
Vishal Bhandari taken into custody by the Crime Branch in the TRP case. File pic/Bipin Kokate

The SIT also found the scam is not limited to Mumbai, but households across India are manipulated by accused channels. The SIT has a list of vendors like Patil, who have been getting money in their shell companies and giving it for payment to households. "We have a list of 1,422 vendors with different companies registered in their names used by accused channels to transfer money used in manipulating TRPs and other purposes," the officer said. Mumbai police said the state government will appoint a special public prosecutor for the case.

The NM Joshi Marg police have registered an FIR against journalists and editorial staff of Republic TV for discrediting the Mumbai police's investigation in the TRP scam. The case has been registered under the Police (incitement to disaffection) 1922 Act, which is used very rarely, and under sections 500 (punishment for defamation) and 34 (common intention) of IPC.

Sub-Inspector Shashikant Pawar of the Special Branch of Mumbai police has been made a complainant in the case. He is posted at the social media lab, where news channels are monitored through the day. According to Pawar's complaint, Shivani Gupta on the English channel of Republic News on October 22 at 7 pm, anchored a show, 'Biggest story tonight'. Sagarika Ghosh was also in the show. The subject was Mumbai police officers are 'revolting against Commissioner Param Bir Singh.' It was also alleged that he was tarnishing the image of the force and junior officers were not obeying his orders. Gupta claimed the report was by Shawan Sen.

"Gupta levelled allegations and baseless claims. A channel that shows such news can create a sense of hatred in the police department. Despite not having concrete evidence, the news claimed that Mumbai police officers have a sense of rebellion against Commissioner Param Bir Singh," the complainant said in his statement. "The staff will be summoned to be questioned or arrested for custodial interrogation," a senior IPS officer said.

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First Published: 24 October, 2020 07:05 IST

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