Bajiu and his team were selected for solving a hi-tech crime where six foreigners withdrew money using fake ATM cards from a Thiruvananthapuram bank.

Meet KE Baiju first Kerala cop to win best cybercrime investigator award
news Interview Thursday, December 21, 2017 - 16:27

Six foreigners, natives of Romania, pulled off a bank robbery by withdrawing money using fake ATM cards in August 2016. Modus operandi: they installed an electronic device inside an ATM kiosk at Althara Junction branch of a bank in Thiruvananthapuram and withdrew the money sitting at Colaba in Mumbai.

The method of operation of this hi-tech crime was unprecedented.

The four had come to Thiruvananthapuram and stayed there days ahead of the crime, and managed to withdraw Rs 10 lakh using the cards. The police zeroed in on the accused within days and sought Interpol’s help in arresting them.

KE Baiju, the officer who led the investigation, has now won the award for the best cybercrime investigator in the country. He received the award in New Delhi on Friday at a cyber-security summit organised by the Data Security Council of India and the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), who have instituted the award.

His team members Circle Inspector S Srikanth and Civil Police Officer Manikantan received the award along with him.

Bajiu, the first officer from Kerala state to receive the award, was Assistant Commissioner at the Cantonment police station in the city at the time the robbery was carried out. He is presently the SP of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. The method of investigation of the crime has even been mentioned during the training for officers at the CBI Academy.

The chargesheet in the case was submitted and the hearing will begin soon. The accused have been charged under section 66 C and D of the Information Technology Act, which stipulates three years’ imprisonment only. 

Speaking to TNM Baiju said, “If we could impose section 70, which refers to ‘access or attempt to access a protected system’, we can try for a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. A ‘protected system’ referred in the section is one which is so notified by the government. So far, no such notification has been made by the government; the state government may, by notification in the official gazette, make rules to carry out the provisions of this Act. The maximum punishment given in the history of cybercrimes is three years. The fact that no state has issued a notification regarding the section, which is the need of the hour, limits the quantum of punishment in this case as well which is highly disappointing.” 

Baiju attributed his team’s success in the case also to Interpol for issuing a timely red notice. Interpol circulates notices to member countries listing persons who are wanted for extradition.

He said, “Interpol swiftly circulated the red notice which made it possible to make the arrests soon. One of the accused was arrested from Manchester and another from Nicaragua, from an airport. We hadn’t seen such an immediate response before. There were cases in which it took three years to issue the red notice,” he said.

Baiju also said that the swift action also reduced the volume of money stolen. “Here it was only Rs 10 lakh, but in a similar burglary in Thailand $70 million was stolen. The burglars had used a Wi-Fi router to get access to the ATM server.”

Talking about the investigation process, Baiju said, “The entire task was herculean. Prior to contacting Interpol to issue the red notice, we had to write to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the draft of which has to be approved by the district police chief,” he explained.

“I believe that the robbers carried out the crime due to addiction. They used to work in the UK and could easily move between countries. They could have done the crime in the UK or some other country if it was solely for money,” he said.

One disappointment for the investigating team was the lack of response from some of the banks, the ATM secret codes of which was accessed by the robbers.

“There are banks which haven’t responded so far to our letter to submit the e-journal, which captures the ATM activities, such as transactions and photos of those who performed transactions. E-journal is the digital record of the manipulations and would be of huge help for the prosecution. So it was a setback for the investigating team. This was something that affected the banking sector, not just a single bank. Being reluctant to cooperate with us is equal to supporting a crime,” he said.

The 50-year-old had entered service in 1990 as a civil police officer. Later he cleared the Sub Inspector exam. Other sensational cases led by Baiju include the hi-tech robbery by Delhi-based thief Bunty Chor in Thiruvananthapuram, the murder of gemstone dealer Hari Hari Varma, the murder of Varkala Salim who ran a money-lending business in Saudi Arabia and the Pangode bank robbery, to name a few.

Baiju was in the news in April this year when he was accused of using force while handling the DGP office march by family members of Jishnu Pranoy, an engineering student who was found hanging in his hostel room in January.

“That video is manipulated. I have the original videos and pictures shot by the police department photographer,” he said.

Hailing from Cherthala in Alappuzha, Baiju believes the way of approaching a crime has a bearing on the headway in any investigation.

“I have never abused or even used a bad word against the parents or relatives of any accused. That won’t help. Similarly, in each crime our approach matters,” he said.


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