For nearly three years, the Karnataka police was hot on gangster Ravi Pujari’s trail before he was finally extradited to India.

How a threat call to Congress MP spurred Karnataka police to track down Ravi Pujari
news Crime Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - 14:27

One of the most feared underworld dons in the country, Ravi Pujari, who was extradited from Senegal and brought back to Bengaluru on Monday, had led a life devoid of criminal activity in West Africa’s Senegal, state police say. Although he was known as a philanthropist in Senegal, police sources say that it was the August 2017 threat call to Bengaluru Rural MP DK Suresh, which set off the police’s chase against him. 

Police sources say that hours after the Income Tax Department conducted a search and seizure operation at Congress troubleshooter DK Shivakumar’s properties in August 2017, DK Suresh had allegedly received a threat call from Ravi Pujari. The Sadashivnagar Police had registered an FIR against Pujari under section 387 (Putting person in fear of death or of grievous hurt, in order to commit extortion) and 506 (Criminal intimidation) of the IPC. On July 18, 2018, the Karnataka government issued an order for Ravi Pujari’s arrest. 

Police sources say that Ravi ran a chain of restaurants in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Ravi also had his hand in textiles and sale of electronics in Senegal. Police sources say that he became popular among the locals in Senegal as he donated money to charitable causes and also donated water pump sets to households. However, he allegedly continued to make threatening phone calls to extort money from politicians, police say. 

When Ravi Pujari allegedly made the threat call, it was DK Suresh’s assistant Vinay picked up the call. Ravi is alleged to have demanded money and issued a death threat against the Congress MP if the money was not paid to him.

How Ravi Pujari got to Senegal

Ravi Pujari turned fugitive in the early 2000s after the Maharashtra and Karnataka police had over 100 cases registered against him. The Interpol had issued 13 red corner notices against Ravi including one for the murder of Bala Zalte, who was a don in Mumbai’s Andheri area. The police were also hot on Ravi’s tail as he was a member of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s gang and was a trusted associate of gangster Chhota Rajan.  

In the late 2000s, Ravi Pujari allegedly obtained fake credentials as Ricky Fernandez from Mysuru and obtained a fake passport in the name. He fled to Nepal and went to Uganda and later travelled to Burkina Faso. He is believed to have obtained another fake passport under the name Anthony Fernandez and then fled to Senegal. 

Pujari is believed to have built up goodwill and also a good network among the local businessmen of Indian origin. Police say that with the help of a few members of the Gujarati community, who lived in Senegal, the police were able to conclusively identify Ravi Pujari’s whereabouts in December 2018. He was arrested in January 2019 when he was getting his hair coloured at a barber shop in Senegal’s Dakar. 

“Initially he was in Dubai when his feud with Chhota Rajan was at its peak. He fled from Dubai and he came back to India before fleeing to Nepal. After settling in Senegal, he knew that the police were trying to track him down. The Mumbai and Gujarat police were after him. So, he kept travelling to Malaysia and Indonesia. He also travelled to America once before returning to Senegal,” the police adds. 

The probe

Speaking to TNM, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Amar Kumar Pandey, who took the lead on tracking down Ravi Pujari says that he hit a deadend multiple times during the investigation. “It was like chasing a ghost,” he says. When ADGP Amar Pandey took up the case in 2017, he did not know what Ravi looked like and the gangster was already on the run for almost 20 years. The picture he had of Pujari in a swimming pool was one of the few photos he had to identify him as even those were two decades old. 

ADGP Pandey began tracking Ravi Pujari’s threatening phone calls to DK Suresh, former Congress ministers Anil Lad, Tanveer Sait and Ramanath Rai. He, however, still remained elusive as he used VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) mobile apps to make phone calls and he never used the same SIM card to make two different calls. Finally, in December 2018, ADGP Pandey tracked Ravi down to Burkina Faso and by the time he could be arrested, the gangster had fled the place. With the help of the Ministry of External Affairs, Indian Embassies in various African nation states, local businessmen of Indian origin and the local police, ADGP Pandey was able to trace him to Senegal in January 2019. He says that he was working on a hunch that he was in Africa. 

When he claimed to be Anthony Fernandez and informed the Supreme Court of Senegal that he is not Ravi Pujari, ADGP Pandey enlisted the help of his counterparts in Mumbai. Ravi Pujari’s fingerprints were in the Interpol’s file. He was fingerprinted by the Mumbai police after he murdered a local gangster in Andheri named Bala Zalte. In February 2019, the Mumbai Police sent over a file that contained Pujari’s fingerprints, which were used to determine his identity and bring him back to India.