Crime
The scandal, going on for eight years, came to light after a businessman complained about being cheated out of a fortune of Rs 12 crore.
Photos courtesy: PTI/Facebook

In a huge scandal that has emerged from Bengaluru, it now appears that at least 800 people were duped by a ponzi-scheme that was being run by city-based Vikram Investments. While the scam came to light after a local businessman complained, many prominent film and sportspersons have also been duped by the scheme.

These include bigwigs like Rahul Dravid, Saina Nehwal and Prakash Padukone, Banashankari inspector Puttuswamy confirmed to TNM.

“They had made some investments saying that they will guarantee profits in commodity trading but they haven't given profits so we have filed a case under Section 420,” Puttuswamy told TNM.

TNM reached out to Prakash Padukone’s secretary, who denied knowledge of the development. We also tried to get in touch with Rahul Dravid, but did not receive a response.

The complaint and crores worth of loot

The news of the scam broke on Monday, when Bengaluru police arrested five people - the firm owner and his associates - who have reportedly cheated at least 60 people. Ragavendra Srinath, who ran Vikam Investments, and his associates Narasimha Murthy, Prahalada, K C Nagaraj and Sutram Suresh, were arrested last week and will be in police custody till March 17.

The scandal came to light after a businessman, PR Balaji, who owns the Balaji Agarbathi Company, complained about being cheated out of a fortune of Rs 12 crore. 

So far, there are 66 complainants who have reportedly been duped of amounts ranging from Rs 5 lakh to several crores each. Police sources told TNM that while there hadn’t been able to zero in on an exact amount so far, it may be well over Rs 300 crore.

The modus operandi

Ragavendra Srinath was the MD of Vikram Investments, and according to police sources, he handpicked the others and made them wealth managers in the company. What was common among Narasimha Murthy, Prahlad, Sutram Suresh and KC Nagaraj was that they were all former LIC agents.

"Raghavendra Srinath banked on the influential contacts these men had made during their time as LIC agents. All four accomplices, through their careers as LIC agents and some of them journalists, had extremely good contacts with rich people," a senior police official told TNM.

Ragavendra’s wife, Sunitha, was the director of the company. She is currently absconding. 

Police sources say that every potential investor was made to sign a written agreement in this regard.

"This gave them legitimacy in the eyes of the investors. They promised their clients to invest in foreign commodities but essentially, they were investing in the share market. However, their clients did not suspect foul play because they had signed an agreement stating that they would receive 15% interest on investment," the police source added.

Police say that the accused have been duping people for eight years now.

"Upon investigation, it was revealed that most of the investors had invested their black money. This worked out to the company's benefit because even the investors did not want to fall under the police net for possession of black money. We are probing to determine where the investors got the money from," the senior police official added.

"These men did not target only rich people. There are several investors who have put in their hard-earned money. They were all lured through the brochures of the company which showed celebrities as major investors. The celebrities in question had no knowledge about the company using their names," the official said.

How a former sports journalist roped in investors

According to police sources, it was Sutram Suresh, a former sports journalist who roped in sportspersons and got them to invest in the scheme.

"Sutram Suresh had connections to prominent sports persons. He is suspected to be the man who got these sports personalities to invest in the scheme. As of now we are probing the matter and gathering evidence regarding him duping these personalities," a senior police officer told TNM.

Sutram was apparently unhappy with how much he was earning in his journalism job, one of his former colleagues, and an editor in a leading Bengaluru daily said. “I had worked with him for three years. He was good at his job. But one day in 2005 or 2006 he quit saying that he could make the money he was making in journalism in one day. Later we came to know he was a very successful LIC agent. But this is news to me that he was involved in this scheme,” Sutram’s former colleague said.

Sutram’s profile on his own website says that he had achieved “Top Of the Table status, which is the World’s highest recognition for a Financial Professional in the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT)”. It also describes MDRT as an “international, independent association of more than 43,000 members, of the world's life insurance and financial services professionals from 470 companies in more than 71 countries.” 

(Inputs from Soumya Chatterjee)

Read: The Rs 1500 crore scam: How Yogesh became Sumanth, then Sachin to allegedly dupe people in Bengaluru