Bengaluru City Police for the first time on Saturday, November 13 publicly stated that they have not recovered any bitcoin (BTC) stolen by infamous hacker Srikrishna alias Sriki, contrary to the claims made earlier. In January this year, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sandeep Patil had told reporters that Rs 9 crore worth of BTC was recovered from Sriki after he was arrested in a drug related offence in November 2020. It was during Srikiâ€™s interrogation that it came to light that he was a master hacker and had hacked many websites for financial gain, including that of the state governmentâ€™s e-procurement portal. He was recently arrested again for an alleged brawl at a star hotel in the city.
On Saturday, in a detailed statement the police said, â€śIt stated that neither any Bitcoins were transferred from the account of hacker Srikrishna, nor any bitcoin was lost. It is a fact that for the purpose of investigating cryptocurrency, it was felt necessary to open a bitcoin account (sic).â€ť
This clarification by the police came as the Congress, starting from Rahul Gandhi to former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and others, alleged a huge cover-up by the BJP-led state government and the Police Department. Former Karnataka IT Minister Priyank Kharge on Saturday raked the issue claiming that Sriki was kept in custody for an extended period by slapping different cases on him to make money for people in power. He claimed that in violation of due procedure the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was not informed by the police. The Congress has sought a judicial probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge, calling it the biggest cryptocurrency scam.
The Congress also hinted that Basavaraj Bommai who took over as Chief Minister only months ago will have to resign over this scam. Bommai was the Home Minister when Srikiâ€™s arrest was made for the first time. Currently Sriki is out on bail and a chargesheet has been filed in two cases.
Police said although they opened an account after obtaining a government order for the same, they were advised by external experts that the wallet which Sriki claimed was his was actually a live wallet of an exchange. The police statement said, â€śThe process of identifying and seizure of bitcoins. Accused Srikrishna showed a BTC wallet, which contained 31.8 BTC. Wallet Password was changed in presence of cyber experts, government panchas and the entire procedure was recorded under mahazer and submitted to the honâ€™ble court.â€ť
The police added, â€śSubsequently, court permission was obtained to use the password to transfer the said coins to the police wallet account. Upon reaching the said wallet shown by the accused Srikrishna, it showed 186811 bitcoins on enquiry, cyber experts opined that the said account claimed by accused as his personal account, was in fact a live wallet of an exchange and accused did not have private key for this. Hence the said account was left untouched and as a result, no bitcoins was transferred to the police wallet.â€ť
The police further said that they acted in a transparent manner, involving domain experts and appropriately recording all the proceedings, which were submitted to the court. They reiterated that at no stage was anything done to jeopardise fair investigation and process of law.
No foreign agency contacted Bengaluru police
Among the other allegations of cover-up, the Congress alleged that the scam and its alleged cover-up had reached Prime Minister Modi and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was also in the city. The police denied such claims. â€śIt is a matter of fact that even though the arrest of the said accused attained wide media publicity till date no foreign law enforcement agencies nor any foreign companies have approached the Bangalore Police about any hacking,â€ť the police statement said.
Further, the statement said that the police had voluntarily approached Interpol after preliminary investigation into the voluntary statements made by Sriki, in which he claimed high volume hacking of websites without any specific details. â€śTherefore, a preliminary investigation was conducted to ascertain the veracity of claims made by him. Careful examination of digital evidence by the cyber experts revealed that the majority of his claims were unsubstantiated. This procedure took time and only after a report was sent to Interpol for further needful at their end,â€ť police said. Police further said that there was no legal request or intimation by Interpol nor any information about any hacking originating from Bengaluru city.
Police said that they wrote to the CBI Interpol wing on April 28, 2021 regarding the alleged hacking done by Sriki.
ED duly informed
The same information was shared with the ED along with the case document on March 3, 2021. But the investigation officers were in regular contact with ED officers about the case, police said. The ED had said that they have attached Rs 1.44 crore in connection with the hacking of the state governmentâ€™s e-procurement portal. They said the money lying in 14 bank accounts of Nimmi Enterprises and others were attached under the Prevention of Money laundering Act.
The ED said that this action was based on the FIR filed by the CID in Bengaluru regarding hacking and subsequent siphoning off of earnest money deposit funds of the bidders to the tune of Rs 11.55 crore from the bank account of the E-procurement cell, Centre for E-Governance, Government of Karnataka.