Gangster Pujari’s threat calls to 10 Congress, JD(S) leaders led to arrest

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Ravi Pujari was arrested in Senegal, extradited

Shifting from his modus operandi of primarily targeting businessmen, gangster Ravi Pujari (59) made extortion calls to at least 10 politicians in Karnataka from 2015 to 2018, leading to pressure on the state police to find him. Pujari, who has 97 cases against him in the state, was eventually arrested in Senegal in January 2019, and extradited to India earlier this week.

Among the politicians who received extortion calls are Congress leaders U T Khader, Abhaychandra Jain, Ramanath Rai in 2015; H M Revanna in 2016; D K Suresh in 2017; Tanvir Sait, C M Ibrahim and Anil Lad in 2018; and JD(S) leaders S R Mahesh and C B Suresh Babu in 2017.

On July 18, 2018, when the JD(S)-Congress was in power, then state police chief Neelamani Raju assigned the task of finding Pujari to Additional DGP Amar Kumar Pandey.

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Additional Director-General of Police(Karnataka) Amar Kumar Pandey and Bengaluru Joint Police Commissioner Sandeep Patil with Senegal police officers. (Photo by Karnataka Police)

As a fugitive in Senegal and Burkina Faso, the gangster “continued his extortion and threat business, targeting people from the film industry, businessmen, builders and developers, doctors and other professionals as well as meddling in political activities — such as making threat calls to people in political life or people with opinion,’’ said Pandey.

Among those to be targeted first was former minister and Congress legislator H M Revanna, an associate of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, in May 2016, when his party was in power in Karnataka. Revanna lodged a police complaint, saying he received a call from a person identifying himself as Pujari, who demanded Rs 10 crore ahead of the release of a Kannada film starring his son.

In August 2017, Congress MP D K Suresh was targeted, shortly after he and his brother, D K Shivakumar, were involved in guarding 44 MLAs from Gujarat ahead of a Rajya Sabha election and were subjected to Income Tax investigations. A personal assistant of the MP who received the extortion call filed a police complaint.

The same year, two more complaints were filed against Pujari by JD(S) leaders S R Mahesh in Mysuru and C B Suresh Babu in Bengaluru alleging threat calls. Mahesh claimed he was warned not to contest the 2018 Assembly elections, and Babu alleged that a caller identifying himself as Pujari demanded Rs 10 crore from him in December 2017.

On June 22, 2018, a personal secretary of former Union Minister C M Ibrahim lodged a complaint of criminal intimidation with the Bengaluru police, saying that a person claiming to be Pujari sent a text message which said, “Don’t talk against country or my people will...’’, to Ibrahim’s phone number.

On December 6, 2018, former Congress MP and mining baron Anil Lad lodged a complaint with police in Bengaluru stating that a man identifying himself as Pujari asked him not to demand the return of Rs 15.55 crore from business associates — Lad had accused them of cheating him in a deal.

Tracking down Pujari proved to be a difficult task since the gangster used voice over internet protocol for his communication. So, when he made these extortion calls, the records would show the calls originating in the Pacific region, western Europe and Africa, police sources said.

Pujari was eventually located in Burkina Faso, on the basis of information provided by informants, from where he was tracked down to Senegal. He was arrested on January 19 last year, and extradited to India earlier this week.

On February 24, Pujari was produced before a magistrate in Bengaluru in connection with the February 15, 2007 shooting of two workers of a real estate firm, Shabnam Developers, in South Bengaluru, whose owner K S Samiullah, a businessman and local politician, had resisted his extortion bid. The gangster was remanded to 14 days of police custody in the case.