Diabolic Divine Dupe
Clearly, this was a well-oiled joint family fraud, minting millions with magic realism, super conman Jadeja style
Hardnews Bureau Ahmedabad
Old tricks still work. Ashok Jadeja, a fake doctor from Ahmedabad who duped thousands, proved it. He exploited human foibles like greed and blind faith to amass a stupendous Rs 1,800 crore.
Jadeja alias Ashok Jeram Chhara, 35, operated in the guise of a homoeopathic doctor. His modus operandi was simple: he spread the word that he was bestowed with divine powers which he could use to triple any sum of money. The lure of easy money coated in divine grace was too strong for many to ignore. Hence, they swallowed the bait.
Among his preys were the educated and well-to-do. They gave Jadeja large sums of money hoping to see it multiply. But, once the scam was unearthed, reality hit home. Jadeja had gobbled up all the money and tried to pull off a disappearing act. But, his luck ran out.
On May 31, Jadeja was arrested. Soon after, the magnitude of the fraud came to light. He had cast his net in at least 11 states including Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Most of those duped belong to the Chhara community, a denotified tribe. Jadeja, alias Ashok Didawala, belongs to this community, but later changed his surname. He exploited the beliefs of his community by saying that he was blessed by Sikotar Mata, a diety worshipped by the Chharas. And, that the mother goddess invested him with a divine power to triple money.
Chharas were branded as criminals by the British. They are among the 150 tribes denotified post-independence. They primarily live in Gujarat. Chharanagar near Naroda in eastern Ahmedabad and another locality near Ahmedabad airport are home to the Chharas. A section of them are involved in bootlegging, stealing and petty crimes.
The Chhara community is close knit and has its own systems to resolve disputes and mete out justice. Generally, they stay away from the police and don't usually lodge complaints at police stations. That's one reason why the fraud remained undetected for six months even though several lawyers and police officers had put their money with Jadeja.
The modus operandi was meticulously planned. Jadeja and his wife, Neelu, were arrested on May 31 from Ahmedabad by the CID (crime). Only after their arrest, the web of deceit spun was unravelled. Jadeja reportedly told the police that he hatched the plan as he did not earn enough from his clinic at Sarkhej in west Ahmedabad. It is alleged that his homoeopathy degree is fake. Apparently, it was 'bought' from a college in Bihar for Rs 3.5 lakh after Jadeja failed to finish a course in an Ahmedabad college.
Investigations revealed that the brain behind the big fraud was Jadeja's aunt, Manbai Rasiklal Chhara. And, his cousin, Shaitansinh (literally, Devil-sinh), was the main operator. Both are now in police custody.
It was apparently Manbai's idea that Jadeja must claim divine powers to triple a sum of money in three days. Accordingly, Jadeja started off with small sums to win the trust of people and establish a name Initially, he took Rs 200 from the gullible and promised to return Rs 600 in three days.
RK Patel, deputy superintendent of police of CID (crime), heading the investigation, said that Manbai accompanied Jadeja to all the functions. She would tell people that her nephew was blessed with special powers by Sikotar Mata and encouraged them to deposit money with him. She would hold meetings in areas inhabited by the Chhara community and effectively spread the message about her nephew's magic powers.
Once the fraud scheme gained credence and people started queuing up to triple their money, Jadeja hiked up the amount of money to be deposited with him. Also, he increased the time for repayment from a week to a fortnight and 28 days. For quite some time, Jadeja actually returned investors thrice the amount as promised. That won him their confidence.
Soon, his fame spread far and wide within the Chhara community, beyond Ahmedabad and Gujarat, to various parts of the country. With fame, Jadeja grew secure in his belief that his fraud will never be discovered. His ambition soared as investors made a beeline to multiply their money.
With expanding business, Jadeja appointed agents in other states to rope in community members. His agents received one per cent commission against the money they brought him.
So far, 16 persons have been arrested in the Rs 1,800 crore scam. Among them are Jadeja's wife, aunt, sisters and brothers-in-law apart from some of the agents he appointed. Clearly, this was a well-oiled joint family enterprise.
Police are on the lookout for other agents who were part of Jadeja's network. "He had appointed several agents to bolster his scheme. We are trying to nab over 40 persons involved in the scam," said Patel.
Around 3,000 persons have been duped by Jadeja, according to police estimates. The conman invested around Rs 50 crore of his ill-gotten wealth in property and gold. But the police are in a fix as most of the property has not been bought in his own name. A land document has been retrieved from one of Jadeja's agents which shows a 250-bigha land along the Ahmedabad-Bavla road worth Rs 25 crore. This property is in the name of a farmer who turned out to be a proxy buyer.
Police have seized Rs six crore from Jadeja. (Rs 1.98 crore in cash, jewellery and vehicles). Investigators have stumbled upon land deals worth Rs 34 crore. "Since Jadeja bought little in his name, it's a legal hassle to pin him. To crack this case, we are trying to track a farmer, a property agent and a fake owner of several of Jadeja's properties. In several cases, the owner is usually a poor farmer whose name was used to protect the real owner," said Patel.
In these property deals, farmers who sold the land have been served notices by CID (crime) and have been asked to surrender the money that Jadeja paid them. Else, their property would be attached by court.
However, there seems little hope for investors who deposited their money in the hope of seeing it grow. As of now, they can only count their losses.