Underworld gangster Ravi Pujari, who remained a fugitive for over 15 years, was brought to Bengaluru in the early hours of Monday morning by the Karnataka police. With over 100 cases and 13 red corner notices against him, Ravi Pujari had remained elusive until the Karnataka Police tracked him down in South Africa.
A team of investigators, headed by Amar Kumar Pandey, brought Pujari back to Bengaluru on Monday. Karnataka Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG and IGP) Praveen Sood said that he would be produced before the court soon. Ravi Pujari was arrested by the Senegal Police on January 19, 2019 after intimation from their Indian counterparts.
Pujari was living in Senegal under the alias Anthony Fernandez and tried to convince the Supreme Court of Senegal that he is not the gangster the police claim him to be. However, on February 19, the court ruled in favour of the Karnataka police and allowed Ravi Pujari’s extradition to India.
Ravi Pujari has 39 cases registered against him in Bengaluru, 36 cases in Mangaluru, 11 in Udupi, and one each in Mysuru, Hubballi-Dharwad, Kolar and Shivamogga. The Maharashtra Police has 49 cases registered against Ravi Pujari and 26 of them are under the stringent MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act).
Who is Ravi Pujari and why is he a wanted man?
Born in Karnataka’s Udupi, Ravi Pujari moved to Mumbai in his teens, where he worked in Andheri. Pujari got mired in local gang activities and shot to infamy after killing a dreaded gangster in the area named Bala Zalte in the 1990s.
He was recruited by Chhota Rajan’s gang after he murdered Zalte and was known as one of Rajan’s protegees. In the mid-1990s, three of Ravi Pujari's men allegedly shot Om Prakash Kukreja of Kukreja Builders in his office in Mumbai.
Eight years after Kukreja’s murder, a Navi Mumbai-based builder, Suresh Wadhwa, is believed to have escaped a murder attempt by ducking under his office desk. Police believe that Poojary's men targeted Wadhwa. He is also accused of extorting businessmen and movie stars in Mumbai. He has made several threatening phone calls to activist Shehla Rashid, politician Jignesh Mevani and Bollywood singer Arijit Singh.
During this feud, Rajan is believed to have moved to Dubai, where he allegedly extorted money from businessmen and hoteliers.
As TNM previously reported, following the March 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, Chhota Rajan split with Dawood Ibrahim. Guru Satam and Ravi Pujari sided with Rajan and broke away from the group at the time. Dawood Ibrahim then attempted to kill Chhota Rajan in Bangkok in 2000. The attempt failed and Rajan was admitted to a hospital in a European country. At the time when Pujari was away from the country, the internal war in Chhota Rajan's faction had kicked off and a sharp shooter named Rohit Verma in the gang allegedly caused Rajan to distrust Pujari. Rajan had allegedly suspected that several of Pujari’s associates like Vinod Shetty and Mohan Kotian had turned on him. Rajan allegedly had Shetty and Kotian killed in Navi Mumbai's Panvel area and Bengaluru respectively.
Unable to convince Chhota Rajan that he had remained loyal, Pujari broke away from him and moved to Australia in 2006, TNM had earlier reported.
The ‘Hindu don’
The feud with Chhota Rajan had led Ravi Pujari to set up his own gang. Pujari’s operations spanned across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Udupi. Ravi Pujari began identifying himself as a warrior for the "Hindu cause." State police say that his transformation was an attempt to cover up his crimes.
He is accused of killing Shahid Azmi, a lawyer representing the terror accused in the 1993 blasts case, and is also accused of plotting to murder Ehtesham Siddiqui, an accused in the 2011 blasts in Mumbai. By setting up a base in Mangaluru, which had by then become a hotbed for communal politics, police say that Pujari was trying to project himself as a man “fighting the enemy.”
A charge sheet was filed against Ravi Pujari in 2011, which accused him of being the prime conspirator behind the shoot-out at the office of Shabnam Developers in Mangaluru in 2007, which left two dead. The police has said that the shooting was a conspiracy was to kill K Samiulla of Shabnam Developers and that Pujari wanted to portray Samiluua as having “links to the Muslim underworld.”
In 2008, Pujari’s men were involved in a shooting at HML Shipping in Mangaluru, which is owned by a Muslim businessman. Police had said that the shooting took place as the businessman had refused to pay hafta to Pujari.
Advocate MS Khan, the lawyer who represented founder of Indian Mujahideen Yasin Bhatkal, had written to the Delhi Police Commissioner in 2014 alleging that he had received death threats from Ravi Pujari.
In October 2015, he reportedly made threat calls to two Karnataka Congress ministers of the, Ramanath Rai and Abhaychandra Jain. Both leaders are from Dakshina Kannada district and Pujari had allegedly accused them of protecting the murderers of Bajrang Dal activist Prashanth Poojary.
In January 2018, Tanveer Sait, who was then a minister in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet, had said that Ravi Pujari had allegedly made threat calls and sent messages to him demanding Rs 10 crore.
Under the police net in South Africa
Amar Kumar Pandey, the Additional Director General of Police of Intelligence in Karnataka, who was investigating Pujari, tracked him down to Burkina Faso in 2018. ADGP Pandey found that Pujari had been living under the alias of Antony Fernandez. Ravi Pujari had assumed a new identity and was allegedly involved in investments and had also set up a chain of restaurants in South Africa.
He fled Burkina Faso as the police were on his trail and ended up in Senegal’s Dakar. Intelligence officials learned on December 31, 2018 that Ravi Pujari had been hosting cricket tournaments in Africa and had photographs to prove it. ADGP Pandey alerted the Mumbai Police and also his counterpart in Senegal in January 2019, where he was arrested.
Despite his arrest, Pujari maintained that he was Anthony Fernandez and was not Ravi Pujari, when he was produced before the court. The police submitted DNA samples of his family members to prove his identity and extradite him to India. After a year-long effort, the state police were able to bring him back to Bengaluru.