How Commotion Over Crores Uncovered Kashmir’s Newfangled ‘Conman’

A latest demonstration in Kashmir heartland declared how a man duped dozens of their hard-earned money and ended up becoming Kashmir’s sensational swindler.

ON a balmy summer day in Srinagar, black and white bearded men with battered body language arrived in press enclave to narrate Kashmir’s new “Ponzi scheme” — leaving most of them broke and bankrupt overnight.

One of them lamented that he lost crores to a “conman” operating some “extreme” outlet in city outskirts. Another narrated his riches to rags story. While most regretted being swindled by a ‘sleight of hand’—allegedly known for some ‘powerful connections’.

The utter shock of being taken for a ride by a conman had brought these swarms of men from six districts together in the heart of the capital city on May 31, 2022, leaving everyone flummoxed around them.

“The conman named Mohammad Shafi from Budgam had taken an amount of Rs. 1 crore and 17 lakhs from me in lieu of a fake electric vehicle showroom’s dealership,” Manzoor Bhat, a perplexed protestor, told Kashmir Observer. “I was given a dealership for three districts including Budgam, Pulwama and Srinagar. The conman then took us along with him to Jammu for a fake inauguration ceremony. After three days of futile wait, he took us to Delhi’s Victory Brand factory, where his gang garlanded us. However, a week after the inauguration, we realised that the 52 gifted keys, flats in Jammu and the dealership was all fraud.”

The rip-off is an embezzlement of its own kind that has ringed a serious alarm bell in the region against such spooky characters.

“The conman was arrested by Budgam police yesterday and booked under IPC’s section 420,” SSP Tahir Saleem, Budgam Police Chief, told Kashmir Observer. “He was to be produced today but due to some reasons we couldn’t. He’ll be produced before the court tomorrow. Further investigation is going on to verify all the crimes he has committed.”

Meanwhile, asking everyone to stay vigilant of such sketchy characters who rely largely on dubious accounts, Mohammed Ismail Ganai, a resident of Kakapora, Pulwama described the damaging testimony of the conman that cost him his present and future.

“The conman duped me of Rs 36 lakhs,” said Ganai while expressing deep anguish. “When I got to know of his shady character, I visited his house to get a heads up about the things. However, on meeting him, he threatened me and said that no court can uphold his crime.”

The testimonies from the duped dissenters certainly tell about the origins of the conman who has gradually widened his offers to scam new people and has reportedly earned more than Rs 20 crores through frauds.

One of those hapless persons haunted by the conman is a greyed and slender man in his mid-sixties, Nazir Ahmed.

“The conman had approached my son and lured him into dreams of an SPO job in J&K Police saying that he maintained close relations with top officials,” Nazir said. “We then paid a total of Rs. 41 lakhs. A week later, the conman took my son to Jammu on pretext of verifying his documents in wake of some issued order. It wasn’t until my son visited district police lines to ascertain the reasons behind the delay in his joining order that he came to know about the scam he was pulled into.”

Someone at police lines had told Nazir’s son that no such order was ever issued. “It was a trick,” Nazir rued. “The conman took away our lives from us.” Following his blown cover, the conman had promised to return Nazir’s money. The promise, however, remains elusive till day.

In Kashmir, such financial fraud cases have split people into believers and nonbelievers. And this is exactly what Mohammed Sajjad Khoka of Anantnag has to say.

“In 2018, the conman forced me to sell my ancestral land in exchange for better land,” Sajjad said. “He took Rs 1 crore 23 lakhs from me. After I confronted him for duping me, he threatened me and said that his close ties with BJP are enough to kill me. Soon after this incident, I approached Budgam police and sought their help. They took strict action and arrested him for nine days. He was then released after offering to pay my money but it’s been six months since then and I haven’t received a single penny from him. I don’t think I can ever trust any other human being now.”

Even though the police is probing the conman’s methods at the moment, many have already called him “Kashmir’s Charles Ponzi”.

Ponzi was an Italian con artist who operated in North America before the Great Depression of 1930s and tricked people with his money-making scheme.

“Back in 1990s and early 2000s, similar con cases surfaced in Kashmir,” said Arshid Khaki, a banker based in Srinagar. “They were swindlers who offered bogus schemes to people and looted their money. This latest con case is just another instance of that.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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