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How Karnataka Police nabbed Ravi Pujari, ‘Hindu don’ facing 200 cases, in Senegal

Karnataka Police tracked Pujari, the gangster evading arrest for 20 years, to Dakar in Senegal in 2019 and brought him to India after a year-long extradition process.

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Bengaluru: The Karnataka Police’s efforts to nab Ravi Pujari, one of India’s most wanted fugitives, has all the ingredients of a celluloid drama.  

For one, the police tracked his movements from 2018 and finally pinned him to a location: Dakar, the capital of the West African nation of Senegal. 

When they did locate him, police found that he had been hiding under an assumed name — Anthony Fernandes, an inspiration from one of his favourite Hindi movies, Amar Akbar Anthony

There had been help too, according to the police. Senegal’s President Macky Sall, known to have played a major role in tracking and nabbing several notorious Italian and Chinese criminals, pressed his police to begin extradition proceedings soon after arresting Pujari in January 2019.  

After a year-long extradition proceedings, which even saw Pujari flee Senegal, the Karnataka police finally brought one of the country’s most notorious underworld operatives back to Bengaluru at 3.30 am Monday morning. 

Pujari, who had evaded arrest for over 20 years, has over 200 pending cases in India, including that of murder, extortion and other related crimes. 

The arrest

The Karnataka Police had first begun tracking Pujari in 2018 on the orders of the then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. The gangster has 96 cases registered against him in the state.

Police took a cue from the earlier arrest of another Karnataka underworld don, Bannanje Raja, who was arrested and extradited from Morocco in 2015.

A police team headed by ADGP Amar Kumar Pandey began building a network of informants to trace Pujari. The team was soon tipped off that the fugitive don was running a restaurant chain — Namaste India — with nine outlets across several West African countries. 

A senior police officer who had been tracking Pujari for over a year told ThePrint that police first traced him to Burkina Faso and then in Senegal. 

The officer said that in March 2018, they received credible information that the gangster had moved from Dubai to Uganda and later to Kenya. He finally set up base in Burkina Faso, a small landlocked country in West Africa.  

“A former Pujari associate from Mangaluru turned approver and we managed to extract some more information. The associate told us that Pujari had changed his name to Fernandes and that he was joined by his wife after she fled India,” the officer said. We have photographs from Pujari’s daughter’s wedding in London and son in Australia.” 

The officer said they came across a few photographs of Pujari near his home in Burkina Faso. “We traced his home address to a building next to a local school, Cambodia International English School, and began surveillance with the help of the local police,” he added.   

By the latter half of the year, police say, he was found in Senegal. 

During the Navratri season in October 2018, Pujari’s hotel chain is said to have sponsored a Dandiya Night programme.  “We were told that he would also participate in that programme,” the police officer said. “We got a video of him dancing and shaking hands with young boys there. This was one of our first confirmation of Pujari’s new location.” 

Venkatesh Prasanna, another senior police officer presently attached to the Bengaluru City Crime Branch, said that were also tipped off about a cricket match that was organised by Pujari’s hotel chain Namaste India in Senegal. 

An invitation card with the name of organisers was sent to the police bearing the names and phone numbers of  organisers including that of an “Anthony Fernandes”. 

“We cross referenced it with the number that our informant gave us, it matched. We also had a photograph of Pujari with a few people watching the match,” Prasanna said. “To confirm Pujari’s presence at the cricket match, we found the reflection of the match on the sunglasses of one of the men sitting next to him. We used high-end editing techniques and enhanced the picture to get a glimpse of the match.” 

“We looked at the jersey of a man whom Pujari was congratulating. He was wearing a jersey that had Indian Cricketers Club, Senegal, printed on it. This was another confirmation for us that Pujari was in Senegal,” Prasanna said.

Arrest and extradition

A police team tracked Pujari for months, until it found an opportune moment to tip off the Senegal Police of his presence in the country. That moment came in January 2019, when the state police pinned him to a location in Dakar.   

Pandey  immediately tipped off the Senegalese authorities and also Rajeev Kumar, the Indian ambassador to Senegal. 

With an administration not keen to host fugitives, the Senegal Police watched Pujari’s movements for three days. On January 19, 2019, three busloads of armed policemen surrounded the don and arrested him just as he was going in for a haircut in a salon.

But the extradition process didn’t go as smoothly. Just when Pujari was being prepared to be handed over to the Karnataka Police, he came up with a ploy to scuttle the process. 

The gangster had a false case of fraud filed against him in Senegal. According to the Senegalese law, a person facing charges in the country cannot be deported until he faces all the charges in a court of law.   

“Pujari’s lawyers also argued in court that their client Anthony Fernandes, who held Burkina Faso passport, was not the same person that the Indian police were hunting for,” explained a senior police officer who has been closely monitoring the case. 

The Senegal court granted him bail while instructing him not to leave the country until the case was settled. Much to the chagrin of Indian investigating agencies, Pujari took the opportunity to go underground. 

Senegalese authorities, however, stepped in again. They picked up the don’s trail and arrested him in South Africa. He was brought back to Senegal and later flown to India by the Karnataka Police team.  


Also read: Why the police class of 1983 was feared by Mumbai’s underworld


Crime sheet of a ‘Hindu don’

The 52-year-old underworld operative will forever be synonymous with the sobriquet, the ‘Hindu Don’.  Investigators say that he often referred to himself as the “Hindu Don” and  would also call himself a “patriot” while making  his threat calls through the voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP). 

Pujari ran extortion rackets in Mangaluru, Bengaluru and Mumbai but later fled the country and is said to have created a vast network in Australia, Dubai and Western Africa. 

His modus operandi was largely to target real estate businessmen and extort money. Of late, he had begun threatening politicians as well. 

Former Karnataka IGP (intelligence) Gopal Hosur says that no amount was too small for Pujari. “He would make extortion calls for Rs 10 crore and then settle for as low as Rs 5 lakh,” Hosur said.

A total of 96 cases of extortion are pending in Karnataka against Pujari — 46 in Bengaluru, 47 in Mangaluru and the rest in others parts of the state. His associates were allegedly involved in seven shootouts, three of which were fatal. 

In 2001, he was chargesheeted for his alleged involvement in a fatal shoot-out involving a builder, Subbaraju , who had refused to pay the extortion amount.

Six years later, Pujari’s henchmen allegedly barged into the office of Shabnam Developers in Bengaluru and shot down the receptionist mistaking him for the owner, K. Samiulla. 

Pujari also allegedly sent threats to activists Shehla Rashid, Umar Khalid and Jignesh Mevani in 2018. This came hours before gunshots were heard outside Delhi’s Constitution Club when an unidentified man targeted Khalid who escaped unhurt. 

In 2014, he allegedly made five calls and sent a text message to Mumbai-based businessman Nusli Wadia threatening to ruin his family business if they did not stay out of Bollywood actor Preity Zinta’s life. Zinta had earlier filed a case of harassment and abuse against former boyfriend Ness Wadia. 

In October 2015,  the don allegedly called two former Karnataka ministers, D. Abhaychandra Jain and Ramanath Rai accusing them of “protecting the killers” of a Bajrang Dal activist Prashanth Pujari. Prashanth, a flower seller, was stabbed by six motorcycle-borne men in Dakshin Kannada’s Moodabidri. 

Former Karnataka education minister Tanveer Sait filed a police complaint alleging that Pujari called him and demanded Rs 10 crore.  Senior Kerala Congressman Ramesh Chennithala also complained of a threat call from Pujari.  


Also read: These 4 dreaded killers are Modi govt’s first ‘designated terrorists’ under UAPA


The gangster from Karnataka

Born in Malpe near coastal Karnataka’s Udupi district, Pujari spent most of his life in Mumbai’s Dombivali. A school dropout, he began running a tea stall in Andheri before turning to petty crimes. 

He soon developed links with the Mumbai underworld and by the early 1980s, Pujari had made a mark enough to be noticed by Shrikant Desai, a close aide of the notorious Chhota Rajan.

A senior retired Mumbai Police officer, who did not want to be named, explained that it was Desai who recruited Pujari. 

Desai was killed in a police encounter in 1993, and an angry Pujari swore revenge against those who “tipped” the police on Desai’s whereabouts. 

Pujari suspected Bala Zalte, who was picked up earlier by the police, to be the man behind his mentor’s killing. He murdered Zalte, a key member of the Dawood gang and Chhota Rajan rewarded Pujari by elevating him in their gang hierarchy. Pujari had by now become one of Rajan’s trusted aides.   

Over the years, after Rajan split from the D-Gang, Pujari too moved away from Rajan and has been operating on his own since. 

Former Maharashtra DGP D. Shivanandan told ThePrint that “unlike the Dawood gang”, Pujari was a “smart cookie”.  “He ran away from India like his gurus but the big difference between him and the other gangsters was that he used the latest technology for his illegal operations,” the retired IPS officer said.  “He used VoIP. By this he could camouflage his location. That was how he was operating in his heyday.” 

Pujari was a late entrant in the Mumbai underworld scene, the senior officer said. All he did was to try and fill the void that was created after 2002 when the Mumbai Police had flushed out most of the city’s underworld. 

“In the vacuum that was created after the D-gang  fled and the underworld disintegrated, he tried to emerge as a gangster. He conducted extortion activities but was not notorious as some of his contemporaries,” said Shivanandan, who had served as the Mumbai joint commissioner (crime) from 1998 to 2001. 

The senior IPS officer said that Pujari’s henchmen were small-time extortionists who had no modernised weaponry such as AK 47s . They used “old and rusted guns”, from which bullets sometimes wouldn’t even fire, he said. 


Also read: Hawala, fake tenants, a trust — how Dawood aide Iqbal Mirchi held on to Rs 225-cr properties


  • The copy has been updated with additional information on the months leading to Pujari’s arrest in Senegal.

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Why tag this news as ‘Hindu Don’? When a terrorist has no religion a Don too. Pseudo Secular

  2. All Lies and Kumaraswamy did nothing and Karnataka Police too is trying to take undue credit. Ravi Pujari was arrested by Interpol and the credit goes to France.

  3. Finally when govt or ruling parties don’t have profit or work from these dons, Allow police to do their duty.

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