Dangerous liaison

High drama at a Noida police station in the dead of night ended with the busting of a criminal nexus between cops and journalists

A curious collaboration between cops and mediapersons for illegal extortion has been exposed in Noida. Three journalists and a Station House Officer (SHO) were arrested and taken to the anti-corruption court, January 30. They were found to extorting money from a call centre owner.

The extortion case came to light on January 27 when Pupendra Chauhan, a resident of Ghaziabad, complained that the SHO of Noida’s Sector 20, Manoj Kumar Pant, and his associates were demanding Rs 8 lakh from him.

Chauhan’s call-centre had been raided earlier, following which a first information report (FIR) was filed against him. Chauhan stated that he was asked to pay money to have his name removed from the FIR.

The Superintendent of Police (SSP), Noida, Vaibhav Krishna says that the investigation found Chauhan’s claim to be true — the journalists and the SHO were working hand-in-glove to extort money. Headed by the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Noida, two teams along with two independent officials were constituted to investigate the case.

Busting the racket
As per plan, Chauhan brought Rs 8 lakh in Rs 2,000 notes to Noida’s Sector 6 police station. All the serial numbers of the notes were written down. The inspectors and two independent witnesses (government employees of the Horticulture and Weights and Measures department) signed the paper with the serial numbers.
The police put phenolphthalein, a chemical often used to prove bribe charges, in the stash of money. This was so that they could catch the culprit ‘red-handed’ by linking the accused to the money.

The complainant was asked to come to the Sector 20 police station at 12:15 am on January 30. One of the independent witnesses HS Tripathi accompanied Chauhan to the police station.

The teams went in their private vehicles from Noida’s Sector 6 police station and reached Sector 20 police station at 12:05 am. They remained at a little distance while the complainant and the independent witness went in to meet the accused. There they were met by Udit Goyal, who is a stringer with ABP News. The SHO and three others also met them. One of the accomplices was Sushil Pandit, a former Sahara TV stringer, who recently started his own web portal called, Sansani India. And, the other, Raman Thakur is a stringer with India TV. There was another person present, a man who identified himself as Jitender.

After the money changed hands, the independent witness stepped out, as was planned and lifted his right hand as a signal for the police team to come in.

Jitender managed to run away but the four were arrested after the serial numbers of the notes in their pockets were correlated. Also, when water was splashed on their hands it turned magenta, as it would if one handled the phenolphthalein-smeared notes.

Goyal was also found with a gun. A Mercedes belonging to Pandit was also seized and has been found to have a fake registration number.

Not first-time offenders
According to the SSP, this is not the first time that the journalists and the SHO have worked together to extort money from call centre owners.

Furthermore, he also stated that there have been complaints from other call centre owners about calls demanding money in exchange for allowing them to function. Investigations are currently on and the police are yet to elaborate on the exact modus operandi of the journalists and the SHO.

SSP Krishna said this was a “very serious” case. He went on to call it a “tradition” between the “bad people from both these professions” to come together for illegal activities, with the “damage” being faced by the public. He also called it the duty of the police personnel as well as journalists to find these “bad seeds” amongst them.

The complainant, in this case, had an FIR registered against him in November 2018. There are currently many call centres under investigation in Noida. Some call centres have been found to be fake and other cases are yet to be investigated. A separate team will look into these cases.

Furthermore, the SSP says they will ask authorities to assigned economic offences to a separate team altogether and not to the police station under whose jurisdiction the crime is committed. The Additional SHO of Noida’s Sector 20 police station was also found to have some link to the extortion case and has been suspended.

The case shows the existence of a dangerous liaison – of how law enforcement and journalists could work in tandem to abuse their power.

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