Kerala, Nov 14, 2019 : On a slow work day a few months ago, Circle Inspector Premanand Krishnan received a friendly phone call from a neighbouring district. On the other end was the Circle Inspector of the Tirur police station in Malappuram, and he had a strange request, Yahoo reported.
"Prem, I need you to dig up some details of a certain IPS officer living in Guruvayoor. His name is Vipin Karthik and he says he belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre," the Tirur CI said, Premanand who was posted in Guruvayur, recalls. Even as he hung up the phone, Premanand didn’t realise that the ’small favour’ he had promised his Malappuram colleague would lead him to expose a series of shocking bank frauds across Kerala – and the 6-ft tall, good looking ’officer’ alleged to be behind them all.
"I had never heard of this guy. But before I knew it, I was hot on his wheels," Premanand says with a laugh. On November 7, Vipin Karthik was arrested from Chittur, for a car loan fraud running up to nearly Rs 3 crore. A second person was arrested as well – Vipin’s mother Shyamala Venugopal, who was his partner in crime in their suave scam.
The IPS officer no one knew
When the Circle Inspector of Tirur first came across Vipin Karthik, his gut told him something was off. Vipin was in the station to help a friend who wanted to file a cheating case, and introduced himself as an IPS officer from the J&K cadre, living in Guruvayur. The CI decided to do some digging, and called up Premanand.
At first, Premanand began by enquiring about the man through word of mouth. "I asked an IPS friend of mine if this man belonged to his batch," he recalls. The officer reverted that he had never heard of Vipin. Another IPS contact from a different batch, too, replied in the negative. This word-of-mouth search finally ended with the Thrissur city police commissioner, Yatish Chandra, confirming that there was nobody named Vipin Karthik even in the latest batch of IPS trainees.
"We then went on the internet and checked the names of entire batches of IPS officers over several years. Our gut feeling was right. There was no Vipin Karthik," Premanand says. Vipin had been pretending to be an IPS officer since 2017, before that he posed an an IT engineer and took loans.
A mother-son racket
Unknown to Vipin, a team of officers of the Guruvayur station learned that the man they were investigating had 15-different criminal cases registered across Kerala. He had also been arrested three times in the past for various frauds. And the 29-year-old’s partner-in-crime was his mother Shyamala Venugopal.
"All of the cases, with a few exceptions, involved vehicle loans and forging of documents. Vipin and Shyamala had cases against them in Nadapuram, Ernakulam, Kalamassery, Koyilandy, Thiruvananthapuram and Vadakara over vehicle loans," says Premanand, adding that the duo have bought and sold upto 12 luxury cars illegally.
Their modus was simple: Take car loans, buy cars, and sell the cars to unsuspecting buyers by claiming the loan was paid off. The forged several documents in the process, including salary slips, bank passbooks, and hypothecation documents.
Relative ease of procurement of vehicle loans was what attracted the mother-son duo, say the police. On submitting relevant documents, these loans are issued within 24 hours. Vipin used this as well as his ’IPS officer’ status to impress bank officials.
"He graduated in B Tech Computer Science and was well versed with computers. He had forged salary slips signed by the ’SP of Kupwara district in Kashmir’. He forged bank statements to show more money. To resell cars, he would forge the hypothecation in the RC books to show that the loans had been cleared," says Premanand. With the money from the resale, he and his mother would meet their personal needs.
In Guruvayur alone, the police found that the duo had taken six different car loans in a span of three years, from three banks: the Indian Overseas Bank, Syndicate bank and the SBI. And to ensure that the banks didn’t find out about the scam and that their credit scores remained high enough to secure new loans, they paid their EMIs – for the time being. In total, the duo had taken loans worth over Rs 3 crore, the police say.
"They submitted forged salary slips and fake bank statements to show money in their account. For instance, a bank statement that Shyamala submitted showed transactions of around Rs 5 lakh. However, her account itself had only Rs 400,” Premanand says.
Shyamala had also taken Rs 25 lakh and 97 sovereigns of gold from a bank manager at IOB in Guruvayur, by lying that her son had cancer. The bank manager has now filed a complaint with the police.
Three other cases of vehicle loan fraud, too, have been registered with the Guruvayur police. A Special Investigation team led by CI Premanand has seized a Royal Enfield bike and a Silver Hyundai Creta – the car driven by Vipin to his gym.
Vehicles bought using illegal loans nabbed from mother-son duo
The 5 am client
Almost an hour away from Guruvayur, trainers at an upscale gym in Thrissur’s Kuriachira recall a client who used their facilities for over a month in September. Every day, this man drove down from Mammiyoor in Guruvayur in his silver car and hit the gym at 5 am. And even as he spoke to all the trainers and staff affably, he maintained a ’polished distance’, the trainers say.
"Vipin claimed to be an IPS officer who finished his training in Jammu and Kashmir. He explained to us that while landing on a parachute in Kupwara district, he hit a rock, injured both his knees and returned home. After physiotherapy and rest, he had gained weight and hence, taken a three-month membership to get back in shape," says Joe (name changed), who personally trained the 29-year old man for a month. Police believe that the intense training was to get into shape and to look like a fit IPS officer
As Vipin and Joe went through strength and resistance training, leg workouts for his knees and cardio to get leaner, the two of them started becoming friends, says the trainer. "I never once doubted this guy because he paid us upfront, was focused only on his two-hour workout sessions and was very suave. He was so disciplined that he lost 6 kg in three weeks," Joe says
Vipin told Joe that he was planning to “quit IPS and begin preparations for IAS.” He also said that he had been in a relationship with the sister of an Indian cricketer with Malayali roots. However, when that led to heartbreak, he decided to get engaged to another woman from Adoor in Pathanamthitta. "I even received a Whatsapp invite to their engagement ceremony," says an amused Joe
TNM spoke to the other trainers at the gym who remember the ’officer’ frequently changing his Whatsapp statuses which were on ’anti-terror operations in Kashmir, police training sessions, and lunches at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi and other snippets.’ His display picture however remained of him in his uniform – one that he got stitched at a local tailoring shop, police say
According to the police officers, Vipin and Shyamala moved across districts in order to evade arrest. While Shyamala hails from Thalassery, the duo have lived in Nadapuram, Vadakara, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and other places before moving to Guruvayur. Vipin also had a brief stint in Delhi where he stayed in a rented flat.
Vipin also convinced a woman and her family that he was an IPS officer, and married her. In documents submitted at sub-registrar’s office in Guruvayur, Vipin’s profession was shown to be ’ASP of Police’. "He also managed to hoodwink some people into offering him IPS privileges – such as a free darshan at the Guruvayur temple," Premanand adds.
On October 27, 2019, Shyamala was finally arrested from a rented house in Bilathikulam, Kozhikode. While the police officers approached their two-storey building, Vipin jumped from the second floor of the house and ran away.
Vipin Karthik post his arrest in November
A week later, on November 6, five plainclothes officers of the Chittur police station in Palakkad nabbed Vipin from an ATM near the Thathamangalam bus stand, based on a tip-off. According to the Chittur SI, Vipin was at Palakkad on another one of his financial dealings.
"He was waiting to get money and had a black bag slung across his shoulder which contained a towel, lungi, a book and a cellphone. When we approached, he distracted us by giving us the bag and ran away. Four hundred metres in, we cornered him near a paddy field and promptly handed him over to the Guruvayur station," says the Chittur SI.
A chance phone call and a word-of-mouth enquiry turned out to be one of the biggest cases of the year for the Guruvayur police. And even as the SIT led by CI Premanand continue to gather details on other scams by the accused, cases have been registered under IPC sections 419 (cheating by impersonation), 421 (Dishonest or fraudulent removal or concealment of property to prevent distribution among creditors), 455 and 458 (Lurking house-trespass or house-breaking), and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of the IPC.