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The Inside Story

Nine, including wealthy businessman, held for kidnapping Ghatkopar builder's son

A 40-year old mechanical engineer, Ajit Aparaj, ran a business of buying and selling cars during day time in association with his wife, but allegedly was a professional kidnapper after sunset. The engineer has allegedly been involved in three successful kidnappings in the city, and he has extorted money from businessmen and builders, police said.

The Mumbai crime branch have arrested nine persons, including the engineer's wife, for allegedly kidnapping the 21-year old son of a businessman from Ghatkopar in March. The detection assumes high significance for an embarrassed Mumbai police as the accused successfully managed to get a ransom of Rs2 crore from victim's family.

Those arrested have been identified as Ajit Aparaj, Rakesh Kanojia, Gautam Gupta, Vijay Wadale, Deepak Salve, Manish Gangurde, Avinash Dethe, Ganesh Koyande and Bharti Aparaj. One Suresh Pandey has been shown wanted in the case.
Speaking on the modus operandi of the gang, joint commissioner of police, crime, Atulchandra Kulkarni said, "The accused persons would keep eye on housing societies in eastern suburbs where rich people would stay. They would then follow those people to study their movements. The victim youth was also spotted by the gang and one day when he was not using his car the gang used the opportunity and struck."

On March 11 around 10.30 pm the youth had left his Ghatkopar residence, having informed his parents that he was going to meet a friend. The victim had his mobile phone with him. Around 11.30 pm, he was abducted by Kanojia, Gupta and Pandey (who used an Indica Vista car) at MG Road in Rajawadi area of Ghatkopar, and was taken to Ajit's farmhouse in Murbad. Around 12.12 am on March 12, an SMS was sengt from the victim's phone to his father, stating, "I have been kidnapped." Kanojia took out the victim's SIM card from his Blackberry phone.

The victim's father contacted his son, but the phone was switched off. The father then lodged a missing person complaint with Tilak Nagar police.

"Kanojia returned to Mumbai, met Ajit and informed him about the kidnapping. Ajit decided to question the boy himself and take details of his family. He went to Bhiwandi, took a new phone and inserted victim's SIM card. He then went to Shahapur and called the victim's family. He told the family that the kidnapped youth had beaten up two of his boys, that he would meet them (the parents) two days later, and told the parents they were being watched. He threatened to kill the youth if the parents went to the police, an officer said.

Ajit questioned the youth and gauged how much money could be extorted from the family. On March 14, Kanojia made repeated phone calls to the family for ransom of Rs2 crore from Aadgaon. "Ajit was monitoring the entire process and remained behind the scene. He assigned his associates, all drivers by profession, to do the dealing and transportation," the officer said.

On March 16 Kanojia made a phone call to the family from Vikhroli, and said the family would be allowed to speak to the youth next day. Next day, a parcel was sent to the family. "The parcel contained a letter signed by the victim and a video saved in a memory card. The contents of the letter and video were the same. In the video, the victim appealed to his family to meet the demands of the kidnappers," the officer said.

After a few days, Kanojia went to Ambedkar Nagar in UP and took three SIM cards, returned and then again made extortion calls. The victim was meanwhile shifted from Murbad to Vani in Nashik.

On March 28 the case was handed over to crime branch for further probe.

On March 29, the abductors informed victim's family that a parcel was kept on top of a bus stop near their house. "The parcel contained a new handset, a SIM card and another video of the victim. The family was told to communicate with this new handset only. The gang was absolutely professional in their approach. They would make calls to the family from different SIM cards and used to travel at least 25-30 kilometres away from the spot where the victim was kept, so that the location was not traced. Once the call was made, they used to take out the battery of the phone and would use it only to make the next call," said a police officer.

On April 12, Rakesh called the father early morning and asked him to come to Aarey colony with the ransom in a bag. "In the isolated area, they asked the father to throw the bag over a wall of a building. Kanojia and Gupta collected the bag and fled on a motorcycle. They later met met Ajit in Goregaon, who transferred money from the bag into a gunny bag, threw the bag away and left. Ajit gave Kanojia and Gupta Rs 1 lakh and the duo later went to Nashik and released the victim. Others involved in the case were involved in the taking care of the victim," the officer said.

"The victim told the police during questioning that the accused persons had held him at gunpoint while abducting him. The gang used to give sedative injections to the victim while transporting him from one place to another, so that he could not identify the places he was being taken to," said the officer.

"Our first lead came in when the victim told us that during his kidnapping, he had heard that one of the accused person's wife had delivered a baby in Mumbai and the accused person had to rush to Mumbai and return after a couple of days. We then made inquiries with the hospitals in city and scanned details of the children that were delivered during the period of kidnapping. The suspect who then emerged was Manish Gangurde," said senior police inspector Shripad Kale.

The police have recovered Rs 30 lakh, an Innova and a Safari car from Ajit, Rs 55 lakh from Kanojia and Rs 5 lakh from Gupta. "Rs 50 lakh were kept in the locker of Ajit's wife. We would seize that money soon. The accused persons were produced before the court and have been remanded to police custody till May 5," an officer said.

The group has a past criminal history
Ajit Aparaj was involved in two cases of kidnapping which remained undetected earlier. The cases were registered last year. "In June 2013, he abducted a 54-year old businessman from Kurla who bought and sold cars. He called the victim to Dahisar, saying he wanted to sell a car, abducted him and kept him in a godown in Nalasopara. Later the gang extorted Rs 12 lakh from the family. A case was registered with Kurla police," said additional commissioner of police, KMM Prasanna. In the second case (with the Aarey police station) the accused extorted Rs 81 lakh from his school time friend after abducting his three-year old son. The victim was kept under confinement for four days in January 2014.

Gang had a failed attempt too
"In one case the gang kidnapped a person and made ransom calls to the family. The family did not obey the demands made by the kidnappers and told them that they were free to do anything. Shocked with the disinterest shown by the family the gang had no option but to release the victim without getting a single rupee. No case has been registered in this regard with the police," said deputy commissioner Dhananjay Kulkarni.

Profile of main accused Ajit Aparaj
40-year old Ajit Aparaj has a diploma in mechanical engineering and has a business of buying and selling cars in Ghatkopar. Apart from two cases of kidnapping, Aparaj is also involved in five cases of car robberies between 2011 to 2015 in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai. "The gang used to book cars on rent, give a sedative to the driver during the journey, abandon him in an isolated place and flee with the vehicle. They would later sell the vehicle," said assistant commissioner Praful Bhosale. "Ajit had spent a lot of money in bars, hotels and on women. He used to spend Rs75,000 a day on his vices," an officer said.

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The gang had told the builder, whose son they had abducted, to drop off the cash at Sanjay Gandhi National Park; cops could do nothing as the criminals took the money and fled, since they didn’t know the victim’s whereabouts

The Mumbai Crime Branch suffered a major embarrassment when kidnappers walked away with Rs 2 crore in ransom money and the police could do nothing but look on. Police officials said they couldn’t do anything at that time because the victim had not yet been released.

The gang asked the builder to drop off the money at a spot in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

He has, however, returned home now. On the night of March 21, the 21-year-old son of a builder from Ghatkopar was kidnapped from near his residence. Soon after his disappearance, the family received a text message, while they were asleep, that their son had been abducted.

As police lay in wait to nab them, two men on motorcycles sped away with the bag of cash before cops could even reactAs police lay in wait to nab them, two men on motorcycles sped away with the bag of cash before cops could even react

The message was sent from the youth’s mobile phone. Police said that after this, the accused would call the family every two days or so and demanded Rs 2 crore in ransom. After playing a cat-and-mouse game with the distressed family, in which they fixed venues to collect the ransom several times and refused to show up, the venue was finally fixed at Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The next day, the victim returned home, telling his family that the kidnappers had left him at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Bridge in Nashik with Rs 2,000

The money was to be delivered at around 7 pm on Sunday. Crime Branch instructed the family to meet the kidnappers and, accordingly, laid a trap there.

“As the family’s car entered the SGNP area, the kidnappers called them and asked them to throw the bag full of cash at a certain spot. Once the bag was thrown out of the car, two men on motorcycles arrived and zoomed away with the money before we could react,” said an officer from Crime Branch, on condition of anonymity.

When asked why they had not acted on time, a senior Crime Branch officer said, “Arresting them from the spot would’ve endangered the victim’s life. It didn’t make sense to lay our hands on the kidnappers till we came to know of the victim’s location.”Less than 12 hours later, the youngster was released in Nashik, where his abductors gave him Rs 2,000 to reach home. “Now that he is home, we can investigate the case. We are sure the accused will be behind bars soon,” added the senior officer.
The police also suspect the gang knows the family and is from the same locality, since they hadn’t used a single expletive or abuse word while speaking to the father. Police have also been trying to trace the location of the kidnappers, who have been one step ahead of them at all times till now.
The youth himself is not in a state to answer questions. An officer added, “We will send the victim for a medical check-up after two days, and then begin asking him questions in detail.” The unidentified accused have been booked for kidnapping.

Evasive gang
According to the police, the gang has played hide-and-seek with the family ever since the kidnap. They told the family members to come with the money to Lonavla, Neral and Matheran. They also seem to have a macabre sense of humour, when they called the family to the Ghatkopar crematorium to meet their son.

Once, they also sent a memory card containing the video of the youngster. In the clip, the youth is seen telling his parents he is safe, and implores them to pay the ransom. Police said the gang had gauged their preparations well before proceeding with the Sunday plan.

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