The Cyber Crime Cell of Pune Police on Monday filed a 4,400-page chargesheet against two cyber experts, including a former IPS officer, who are accused of siphoning off large sums of cryptocurrency from the wallets of accused in two cases of Bitcoin Ponzi scheme dating back to 2018 when the duo was roped in by the Pune police in their probe.
Following an investigation that had started in April 2021, the Pune City police’s cyber crime cell on March 12 this year arrested two cyber crime experts – Pankaj Ghode (38) and Ravindranath Patil (45).
Patil is an ex-IPS officer of the 2004 batch of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Ghode and Patil had helped a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Pune police in its probe into two cases of multimillion-dollar bitcoin Ponzi scheme from 2018.
During the probe led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Bhagyashree Navatake involving a team of select officials and personnel it was revealed that Ghode and Patil had diverted a significant chunk of cryptocurrency funds from the wallets of the 2018 cases’ accused into their own wallets as well as that of their accomplices.
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The duo is alleged to have prepared forged screenshots of the blockchain wallets to funnel the cryptocurrency. From the 17 accused arrested in the 2018 case, the Pune police had, with the help of Ghode and Patil, seized 241.46 bitcoins, 452 bitcoin cash units and 94 Ethereum units. The investigation officer of the case, Inspector Ankush Chintaman, on Monday filed a 4,400-page chargesheet against Ghode and Patil before a magistrate court in Pune.
Patil and Ghode are currently in judicial custody in Yerawada Central Jail in Pune.
The police probe has till now traced as many as 237 bitcoins to the wallets linked Ghode and Patil. Prima facie, this chunk of cryptocurrency is from what was seized from the accused in the 2018 cases. Probe suggests that Patil was also involved in crypto trading.
Recently, the Enforcement Directorate sought information from Pune police for probing the money laundering on the part of Patil and Ghode.
Till now, Pune police have seized from the accused Rs six crore worth of 34 different cryptocurrencies, including Etherium, Ripple etc. Police are also probing a discrepancy of a whopping 900 bitcoins in the reports submitted by the accused when they helped police in the 2018 investigation. At a later stage in the probe, the police also booked Patil’s wife and brother in the case, but they have not been chargesheeted.
In 2018, an SIT from the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Pune Police investigated two of the several offences linked to a cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme registered in the country at the time. Among a total of 17 persons arrested by the Pune Police were brothers Amit and Vivek Bharadwaj, the alleged mastermind of the case. The brothers, through their multiple companies, are alleged to have cheated thousands of people across India by promising high returns on cryptocurrency investments. Amit was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2019 and is said to have died of an illness earlier this year. At one point in time, the amount linked to cases against Bharadwaj brothers and accomplices was pegged at 87,000 bitcoins.
Amit and his accomplices were booked in multiple cases by police across India and also faced money laundering charges brought by the ED. Two of these pan-India cases were registered with Pune City Police for which the SIT had sought help from Ghode and Patil.
Officials said Patil left the IPS a couple of years after joining the service in 2004 and has been working as a cyber crime expert since, assisting various police entities and investigating agencies in their probes. He has also conducted training of police and other agencies on various aspects of crimes related to cryptocurrency in the recent past. Ghode has also worked as a cyber expert in the past and operated multiple firms including a few that are based abroad, an official said.