Kolkata: Anirban Kanjilal, 43, arrested last week for allegedly posing as a CBI officer and running an abduction-extortion racket, was a constant at Nizam Palace, where the agency’s Kolkata headquarters is located, say police officers.
He allegedly gleaned information from conversations in the canteen, and shared it with many journalists as a “CBI source”. To lend weight to his charade, he travelled in a vehicle with a blue beacon, police officers add.
Kanjilal, a real estate agent, is believed to be the mastermind of the suspected extortion racket, which was busted by Kolkata Police last week.
Kanjilal, police officers say, had set up a team of 16 people — including a Republic Bangla reporter — who posed as CBI officers, faked arrest warrants, and abducted or blackmailed small-time businessmen. The prey was carefully chosen, police officers say.
The businessmen themselves often had something to hide from the authorities, so they complied with the ransom demands.
At least a dozen businessmen were abducted through the run of the racket — the exact duration is being investigated — but the cover was blown with the arrest of the journalist Thursday.
Abhishek Sengupta, 29, was caught after the wife of an abducted south Kolkata businessman approached police on 24 May. As of Sunday, 11 people had been arrested as part of the investigation. Sengupta’s probation was suspended by Republic Bangla after he was booked in the case.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kolkata Police officers who didn’t wish to be identified said the team put together by Kanjilal included an IT professional, touts, a film producer, a lawyer, syndicate (local suppliers of construction material, called syndicates in Bengal) operators, and drivers.
The team, the officers said, gathered details about the illegal dealings of businessmen and made fake arrest or search warrants to blackmail them.
Abhishek, who started his career with a local news channel, was covering the CBI. He is believed to have met Kanjilal at the canteen in the CBI office.
“He (Kanjilal) introduced himself as a CBI officer. Not only Abhishek, many journalists covering the CBI knew him as an officer working with the central agency. During the investigation, we came across many reporters who have his name saved (on their phones) as a CBI officer,” said a police officer.
Kanjilal, officers said, was always available at Nizam Palace. He had several car stickers, including those used by the CBI, the ED and the Income Tax Department.
“He is a fraud who duped people by impersonating CBI or ED officers. His modus operandi was to collect details about corrupt businessmen, make fake arrest warrants, and then kidnap them. Apart from this, he also used to conduct sting operations to blackmail many,” the officer added.
“The blue beacon and the car stickers he used, depending on the type of operation, convinced people about his false identity. The blue beacon probably played the most important role as many journalists and others believed that he worked for the CBI,” said the officer.
A second police officer said Abhishek came to know Kanjilal’s truth during a sting operation. “However, he was offered money to keep shut and offered to be a part of such operations,” the officer added.
How the racket was discovered
The first police officer quoted above said the racket was discovered when the wife of the latest victim — “a south Kolkata businessman who was arrested by Kolkata Police in 2017 for running an illegal call centre” — approached the authorities. The businessman was abducted the week before last.
“Anirban and Abhishek both posed as CBI officers and knocked on his door with an arrest warrant. The businessman did not doubt their motive and inquire much because he operates illegally. His wife got ransom calls and lodged an FIR on 24 May. We picked up Abhishek from Siliguri Thursday,” said the officer.
The second officer added that they are investigating a second complaint that was received while the Bengal assembly elections were under way in April.
“A businessman from the Burrabazar area (Kolkata’s central business district) lodged a complaint, saying a group of people who introduced themselves as CBI officers knocked on his doors late at night. The group said they had an arrest warrant,” the officer said.
“The businessman did not open the door as he became suspicious. He knew about such operations and the consequent ransom calls. Many businessmen in the city faced this, but they did not complain as they were deep into corruption. The Burrabazar businessman filed a police complaint. We have collected CCTV footage and sent it for analysis. We suspect that it was the same gang,” the second officer added.
A senior CBI officer said they had no clue about the racket. “Nizam Palace is a big complex of many central government offices. We have common canteens. How do we track who sits there and who impersonates us? We immediately contacted Kolkata Police when we came to know about the impersonation,” the officer added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)