Indian group in NY accused in $32 M hawala business

Wednesday, 28 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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Nine people of the Kumar Organisation here have been charged with 'hawala', or money laundering, and sending more than $32 million out of the U.S. since January 2001.

NEW YORK: The government's complaint also charged two members of the organisation and a tenth defendant, Amar Singh, in a scheme to create false Indian passports for the purpose of smuggling illegal Indian immigrants into the U.S., said the Attorney's Office for Eastern District of New York in a press release.

The nine defendants were identified as Rakesh Kumar, his brother Pramod Kumar, Prem Kumar, Harjit Singh, Amarjit Singh, Karan Singh Talwar, Jagmohan Singh Sethi, Kulbir Singh Sethi and Shiv Charan Sharma.

The government alleged that Kumar's organisation also converted currency into monetary instruments, such as money orders and cheques, and sent these funds via courier service outside the U.S.

According to the complaint, on a single day, March 25, 2002, customs inspectors at Newark Liberty International Airport intercepted Kumar's courier packages destined for Canada, containing approximately $100,000.

Law enforcement agents have executed search warrants at seven locations in Queens, New York, used by the Kumar Organisation and seized business ledgers, wire transfer records, and copies of fraudulent Indian passports.

According to the complaint, the joint investigation was triggered in mid-2002 when several anonymous letters were received at banks and the Internal Revenue Service.

The letters alleged that the Kumar Organisation had established fictitious business accounts, in names including Asha Jewelers and Parkash Trading, at various banks in Queens for conducting the hawala business.

The letters further alleged that the organisation collected large sums of cash from customers, deposited the funds into these accounts, and then wired the money to overseas bank accounts. The government's investigation over the next year confirmed the accuracy of these allegations.

According to the complaint, the organisation's leader, Rakesh Kumar, conducted business from three locations -- Music Land, Jackson Heights, and Five Star, and Baba Indian Grocery in Richmond Hill.

Pramod Kumar managed the day-to-day operations at Music Land, while Harjit Singh served as the organisation's bookkeeper, the complaint said.

Prem Kumar managed Baba Grocery, another currency drop-off point, Karan Singh Talwar operated several import-export businesses in Jackson Heights and wired funds overseas for the Kumar Organisation, the complaint said.

Jagmohan Singh Sethi, Kulbir Singh Sethi and Shiv Charan Sharma worked for Talwar, collecting currency, depositing it into accounts they controlled, and then wiring the funds abroad, the complaint said.

The probe disclosed that the group wire-transferred funds -- more than $32 million -- to bank accounts in Singapore, Hong Kong, Latvia, Canada and India.

Members and associates of the Kumar Organisation were engaged in a large-scale fraudulent document scheme, involving the falsification of genuine Indian passports to be used to smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S.

Among other means, the organisation smuggled blank Indian passports into the U.S. hidden in DVD cases shipped to Music Land.

"We simply cannot permit the unregulated and unlicensed operation of currency transmitting businesses, particularly in these troubling times," Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for Eastern District of New York, was quoted as saying.

"In this case, a staggering amount of money -- more than $32 million -- was sent from the U.S. to bank accounts around the world, and our investigation is continuing to determine where and to whom these funds were destined."

John C. Varrone, special agent-in-charge at the New York Office of the Department of Homeland Security said: "This successful investigation marks the end of an illegal, albeit sophisticated, illicit money transfer organisation. It has ended their operations involving fraudulent identity documents and the illegal movement of large amounts of money out of the United States."
Source: IANS

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