September 2019 News

Operation Kashmiri Almonds Cracks Open Valley's Cash Vaults In Delhi

30 September 2019
India Today
Md Hizbullah

New Delhi: Barricades, coils of razor-sharp concertina wire and tight curfews have not been able to plug the conduits funnelling illegal cash into Jammu and Kashmir, an India Today investigation has found. As the lockdown in the restive region neared its second month, the probe showed a number of merchants in Old Delhi doubling up as hawala operatives for remittances bound to Srinagar. Codenamed 'Operation Kashmiri Almonds', India Today's undercover investigation found how the unlawful supply chains not only damage the country's financial system but also compromise national security. In 2017, the network's scathing expose of anti-India elements bankrolling troublemakers in Jammu and Kashmir swung multiple agencies into action, triggering at least a dozen arrests. Back then, Hurriyat leader Naeem Khan, now in jail, confessed that funds to instigate disturbance in the valley were routed through Old Delhi's notorious hawala channels. Fast forward to 2019, India Today's Special Investigation Team found the money laundering ring servicing clients in Jammu and Kashmir is doing brisk business in the same walled city. For this Old Delhi-based syndicate, low commissions from high volumes seem to outweigh security concerns that illicit cash could be used in fomenting trouble. When investigated, none of them inquired about the purpose of transferring money illegally to a region as sensitive as Jammu and Kashmir - that too in the middle of restrictions. Danish, a dried-fruit merchant at Chandni Chowk's Rajkumar and Brothers store, was quick to offer cash deliveries in Srinagar when the SIT probed him about underground remittances in the valley. Worse, he was aware such transactions are illegal. 'There is a risk involved with heavy transactions. You may be questioned in two days,' he told the SIT. 'The NIA approached many people in this market, who conducted (cash) transactions. They ask ten questions.' He, however, guaranteed deliveries of unlimited amount without any paper trail. 'The payment will be delivered there. It will take a day or two. Don't expect it by tomorrow morning,' he offered. 'So, can Rs 10-15 lakh be delivered every week?' the reporter probed. 'Yes, yes. Even Rs 20 lakh. Any amount can be dealt with,' Danish replied. He proposed to make the payments in Srinagar's Rajbagh area. Danish revealed that the serial number of a banknote would be used to complete deliveries. His cash courier in the Jammu and Kashmir capital, Danish explained, would hand the money after the receiver confirmed the secret number. In Old Delhi's narrow alleys, Saurabh is another dried-fruit merchant sitting at the counter of Afghan Store. He also offered to transfer hard cash to Srinagar in exchange for commissions. 'Can Rs 5 lakh in cash be transferred instantly to Srinagar?' asked the reporter. 'Yes. It will cost you Rs 1,300 per one lakh,' Saurabh answered. The money, he said, would be delivered within a day no matter the amount. 'Can any amount be transferred, over Rs 5 lakh to as high as Rs 10-20 lakh?' probed the journalist. 'Whatever it is. It will cost Rs 1,300 per lakh,' the merchant-cum-hawala operative replied. Another businessman, M.M. Siddiqui, runs a footwear store in Chandni Chowk. But when India Today's SIT investigated, he also turned out to be a component of Old Delhi's hawala ring. He promised to have Rs 10 lakh delivered in Srinagar's Batmaloo area. 'It will be arranged. No worries. It will be arranged, Inshallah,' he said. Siddiqui, who was planning to travel to Srinagar, disclosed how operatives like him use veiled language to carry out their transactions in the valley. He would tell his clients not to mention money on the phone and instead use quantities of footwear as a code for cash. 'The recipients will have to come to Batmaloo. But don't mention money. They just say their name and refer to pairs of shoes. And I would tell them how many I can deliver - two, three or one. We talk like this,' Siddiqui explained. His 'two, three or one' meant rupees in lakhs. BJP national spokesperson Samit Patra, while referring to India Today's undercover investigation 'Operation Kashmiri Almonds', said, 'While I was going through your sting operation, I can vividly remember one of them saying, 'Ab woh zamaana nahi raha'...This means the NIA has become more active.' He was speaking during a debate with India Today's Rahul Kanwal on News Track. Sambit Patra said, 'People are aware of the fact that the NIA is doing its job, that you cannot escape the radar of the investigating agencies.' Sambit Patra further said, 'We have to have a very stringent law on the ground to see to it that these people [terrorists, separatists] who are not going to reform themselves, at least do not deform our society.' By repealing Article 370, the basic aim was to address the feeling of separatism brewing in the common man, Sambit Patra said. Journalist Majid Hyderi, who was also part of the debate, said, 'Hawaala dalaali is the bitter reality of Kashmir conflict. You may call it terror funding, you may call it money laundering but i call it blood money.' He further said, 'If hawaala dalaali is still active, then I will say demonetisation has failed, the BJP has failed.'

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