When the police busted a loan racket in Vijayawada on Saturday, little did they know that they had uncovered a nexus involving prostitution, large amounts of money exchanging hands and many government and police officials.
Some alleged local political party leaders are also said to be involved in the racket.
It started with the police arresting Y Ramachandra Murthy, a deputy engineer of AP Transmission Corporation and G Satyanand, who are alleged to be the brains behind the operation, along with a few private financiers.
According to The Indian Express, this was preceded by a complaint by a woman victim with the Machavaram police, where she alleged that her daughter and son-in-law were abducted by a financier after they failed to repay a loan of Rs 3 lakh, which they had taken at an interest rate of 30 per cent.
Vijayawada Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang told the newspaper "This gang’s modus operandi is to give loans to innocent women at very high interest rates, and when they are unable to repay on time, they threaten them and coerce them into handing over their houses or lands in lieu of the loan. There are allegations that in some instances they forced the women into flesh trade to earn the money to repay the loans. All this is under investigation."
The task force that made the arrests is reported to have found that the gang saw a turnover of Rs 600 crore per year.
As far as political connections to the case are concerned, some of the accused were working as private bodyguards for some leaders of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), who were allegedly backing the mafia.
Deccan Chronicle reports that Bhavani Shankar, who was a bodyguard for one of the kingpins, himself claims to be a bodyguard of VIPs of the TDP. A B.Com graduate from Nalanda Degree College, Shankar is well known in TDP circles. Two other accused, Dudala Rajesh and Srikanth Pendyala, are graduates from a city college. Venigalla Srinivas, who is among the accused, is closely associated with Penamaluru MLA Bode Prasad.
These reports came as even more women stepped forward and started filing cases against the accused and narrated tales of how they were being coerced into the flesh trade.
Some women alleged that the gangsters had posted their photographs on social media sites, besides blackmailing and forcing them into flesh trade, while some alleged that videos of them getting raped were circulated to the extent that they contemplated suicide.
Some reports also suggest that this is the third time that such a racket has been exposed in Andhra Pradesh.
The Hindu reported that this issue is giving the jitters to TDP leaders, as victims are lodging complaints against call money organisers, who have been allegedly supported by the ruling party leaders. Meanwhile, the YSR(C) and the Congress are busy making efforts to derive political mileage by cornering the TDP MLAs.
However, the Director General of Police (DGP) J V Ramudu, on Sunday, gave a clean chit to the ruling party MLAs belonging to the city while adding that chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu had asked him not to allow the guilty to go scot-free, however big they might be.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Ramudu said:
“We will not spare anybody. We will take stern action if those involved in the call money case harassed women in getting back their loan amount...We will not hesitate even to slap the new Criminal Amendment Act (Nirbhaya) against the offenders, who are involved in assaulting women sexually. I have asked Vijayawada Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang and other DCPs to probe involvement of any MLA in the case. There is no specific information about any MLA’s involvement in it."
Addressing the media, State home minister Chinnarajappa also said that there was no political pressure in the case.
"The government has directed the police to conduct a fair and thorough probe into the scandal and arrest all the accused in the case. I request the victims to register their complaints either with Krishna District Collector Babu A, or with City Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, Sawang has appealed to the victims to come forward and lodge complaints in his office and has personally promised to look into the cases.
At present, cases have been registered under IPC sections dealing with cheating, rape, sexual harassment, extortion, defamation and criminal conspiracy.