Surat-based builder Shailesh Bhatt hit headlines in April this year after he lodged a kidnapping and extortion complaint with the home department of Gujarat. Bhatt alleged that police officers from Amreli district who were in cahoots with Nalin Kotadiya, an influential former BJP MLA, had kidnapped him and extorted 176 bitcoins – worth Rs 9 crore – from him on 11 February 2018
Bhatt is now absconding after the Gujarat Criminal Investigation Department (CID) booked him for allegedly kidnapping and extorting Bitcoin and cash to the tune of Rs 155 crore from two people on 1 February. The Crime Branch filed a fresh FIR against Bhatt and nine of his accomplices in Surat on 20 May.
However, Bhatt’s lawyer claims that the builder is still in Ahmedabad and that the charges levied against him are false and part of a larger conspiracy.
Here’s a quick recap of the events so far:
• Shailesh Bhatt accuses Amreli policemen of allegedly kidnapping him from Gandhinagar and extorting 176 bitcoins worth Rs 9.45 crore on 11 February.
• Bhatt lodges a complaint with the home department, who transferred the case to CID (Crime). The probe leads to the arrest and suspension of a Police Inspector, Anant Patel, and the Amreli Superintendent of Police, Jagdish Patel, in April.
• The involvement of Nalin Kotadiya, a former BJP MLA from Dhari, was also implicated in the case. Kotadiya is currently absconding.
• The CID presents evidence of Bhatt’s modus operandi to acquire the bitcoin as well the charges of kidnapping and extortion levied against Bhatt by two Bit Connect employees.
• Bhatt is now on the run.
How Did Bhatt Get 176 Bitcoins in the First Place?
Shailesh Bhatt came under the police radar when CID sleuths began a secret investigation to understand how he acquired 176 bitcoins in the first place.
Bhatt invested around Rs 2 crore in bitcoin through ‘Bit Connect’, a cryptocurrency investment company floated in Surat. And as it turned out, he made the investment sometime between late 2016 and early 2017, at a time when the country was reeling from effects of demonetisation.
"Around two years ago, one Satish Kumbhani from Surat floated a company named ‘Bit Connect’ and lured people like Bhatt to invest for huge returns. Bhatt ended up investing Rs 2 crore in Bit Connect. However, its promoters shut shop in January 2018 and went underground." - Ashish Bhatia, DGP of CID Crime Branch Two Kidnappings
In a press note, the CID stated that in order to recover his investment, Bhatt and nine of his accomplices allegedly plotted a plan to kidnap Piyush Savaliya, who used to work for Bit Connect. The accomplices are: Jignesh Marodiya, Kirit Vala, Nikunj Bhatt, Jignesh Kheni, Umesh, Bavaji, JK Rajput, Dilip Kanani and Hitesh Jotasana.
According to CID (Crime), Bhatt and his accomplices posed as Income Tax Officers and kidnapped Savaliya on 30 January 2018 and held him hostage at a Surat farmhouse at gunpoint. However, Savaliya could not help Bhatt with his goals.
“On 1 February, Bhatt’s men kidnapped Dhaval Mavani at gun point as Mavani was also attached with the bankrupt firm, Bit Connect. Bhatt’s accomplices forced Mavani to transfer 2,256 bitcoins, worth Rs 131 crore into their account. The builder and his accomplices also transferred another 166 bitcoins, worth Rs 9.64 crore into their account,” Ashish Bhatia, DGP of CID Crime Branch told The Quint.
As on 28 May 2018, one bitcoin is worth Rs 4,89,370. Based on this rate, the value of the total 2,422 bitcoins allegedly extorted by Shailesh Bhatt from Dhaval Mavani isRs 118,52,54,321.73 (Rs 118.52 crore).
The CID press note also adds that Bhatt and his accomplices extorted an additional Rs 14.50 crore cash, which the builder received through an 'angadia'. Bhatt distributed the bitcoins among his accomplices and kept around 700 bitcoins for himself, the note states, adding that he took the help of his nephew Nikunj Bhatt to transfer these bitcoins.
The Case So Far
The conspiracy was unearthed when CID tracked Savalia down and questioned him. Savalia alleged that Bhatt had paid him Rs 34.50 lakh to remain silent and to issue a false statement claiming that he was never kidnapped by the builder and his men.
Mavani, on the other hand, was warned that he should never be spotted in Gujarat again. According to sources in the police department, Mavani has left the country.
It was after extorting a huge sum of cash and bitcoins that Bhatt was allegedly kidnapped by Amreli police officers. Bhatt’s kidnapping resulted in the arrests of police inspector from Amreli Police Department, Anant Patel, and Amreli Superintendent of Police, Jagdish Patel, last month. Both policemen have been suspended from service.
One of the main suspects in the case, former BJP MLA from Dhari, Amreli, Nalin Kotadiya, is absconding. Sources said Kotadiya is in Nepal and that a lookout notice has been issued.
“It is a Conspiracy; Police Fabricating the Story”: Bhatt’s Lawyer
Search teams have also been formed to nab Bhatt. “He (Bhatt) is in Ahmedabad, but the police won’t be able to trace him. He will file a quashing petition at HC against the FIR filed in a couple of days,” the builder’s lawyer Dharmesh Patel said. The lawyer told The Quint that the charges against Bhatt are false and a part of a larger conspiracy.
"The charges levied against him are false and part of a larger conspiracy. There is no Savaliya or Mavani; in fact Mavani was not even in India when the alleged offence transpired. The police is fabricating the whole story about Savaliya getting Rs 34 lakh for staying mum." - Shailesh Bhatt’s lawyer Dharmesh Patel
CID (Crime) has registered a criminal offence against Bhatt and his accomplices under IPC section 365, 384, 387, 343, 323, 504, 506(2), 170, 193, 201, 120(B), and under the Arms act section 25(1)(A) in Surat.
Bhatt's nephew Nikunj Bhatt and accomplice Dilip Kanani have already been arrested on charges of kidnapping and extortion, while a man-hunt is on for the others. The CID sleuths have recovered 152 bitcoins worth Rs 8.5 crore from Bhatt and Kanani.
(With inputs from PTI)
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