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New Tricks Of The Trade

IN the last two years, extortion has been the mainstay of the Mumbai underworld.

New Tricks Of The Trade
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IN the last two years, extortion has been the mainstay of the Mumbai underworld. Once profits from  hawala plummeted, thanks to the Voluntary Declaration Scheme of the government, and non-resident dons refused to pump in the money they made from the international narcotics trade into Mumbai, local representatives of Dawood Ibrahim and Chotta Rajan looked to other sources for finances—with the blessings of the 'Bhais'.

All it requires is a phone call from Dubai or Malaysia for a businessman or a film producer or actor to panic. Ever since Dawood has been holed up in a Karachi hideout, his brother Anees or henchman Abu Salem conduct operations. The modus operandi is simple. Once a target is identified, the Mumbai operatives contact the 'victim' and direct him to call a particular number abroad. "Bhai would like to speak to you. Call him," is a typical one-liner; or "get in touch with Nana" if the gang in question is Chotta Rajan's.

It is at this stage that the police needs to be alerted, which is never done. The pet gangland line—that the police cannot protect you forever—still holds. Once the call is put through, the don or his henchmen fixes the price to be paid. This is an arbitrary exercise and could run into lakhs or even crores. If someone is asked to call 'Nana', it could well mean a hafta of Rs 50 lakh.

After the 1993 bomb blasts, both the 'D' Company and the breakaway Chotta Rajan group found their channels of communication with their Mumbai contacts curtailed. In the police crackdown on the underworld, many of their key operators were killed in encounters.

The 'D' Company also lost considerable money in Dubai following the arrest of Dawood's brother Anees by the Bahrain police last year on smuggling charges. According to police sources, Dawood had to shell out Rs 7.5 crore to the Bahrain authorities for Anees' release. In all, Dawood handed out about Rs 15 crore for his brother. Financial inputs from Dubai to the Mumbai boys virtually came down to a trickle.

For the upkeep of their boys in the city, these outfits launched extortion drives. While even in the past protection money was collected, it was not common for these gangs to demand large volumes of money. Soon, desperate gangsters delivered death threats to businessmen who failed to pay up. To carry out their threats, the underworld needed killers who had no record of crime in the city. The 'D' Company used its contacts with the gangs of UP to recruit a new breed of henchmen. According to the crime branch, Abu Salem, who is from UP's Azamgarh district, hires men to do his dirty work.

A senior police official painted a typical scenario for

Outlook . For a murder which has to be carried out in Mumbai, UP hit-men are despatched to the city. They are met at an appointed place by a gang representative and provided with weapons—even taken to a practice session in some secluded spot. The assignment is clearly explained. Once the killing is done, the gang gets in touch with the freelance killers. The weapons are taken back and the fee paid. A killing is often executed for as little as Rs 15,000. The freelancers then return to their village. Since the same men are not used too often, the police finds it difficult to keep track. The freelancers are novices, not experienced hitmen and may not have even handled the sophisticated weapons the Mumbai underworld uses. This, according to crime branch officials, is the reason why some recent attacks have failed.

With the outfits in Mumbai under great pressure to generate finance and local dadas wanting to launch their own out-fits, extortions will continue. Earlier this month, a diamond exporter was shot at for refusing to meet the demands of extortionists. But few will dare resist after the Gulshan Kumar killing.

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