Underworld goes underground

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Interpol red alert subject found safe haven in Vietnam for five years

Bunty Pandey (right) was arrested in Vietnam last October. Police said Pandey had been living in Vietnam under a false identity "” Vijay Subhash Sharma, 40, labor contractor"”- while running his operations in India

Smuggling, kidnapping, extortion and murders galore Indian gangster Bunty Pandey had plenty of such crimes to his credit, and was wanted by the Indian police for at least 38 cases and counting.

Despite an Interpol red corner notice issued for Pandey in 2002, he was nowhere to be found. Since 2002, Pandey had traveled to Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The mystery was solved a few months ago.

He had been living in Ho Chi Minh City for five years with his family and children as a labor contractor and consultant, it was revealed last week during a review meeting held by the southern office of the Ministry of Public Security.

Among the 89 criminals nabbed in the southern region in 2010, the prize catch was 40-yearold Prakash Pandey aka Bunty Pandey. He stayed in Vietnam as Vijay Subash Sharma.

He had obtained an Indian passport from Mumbai in 1999 impersonating as Vijay Subhash Sharma. All his subsequent passports were also in this name making it difficult for Interpol and the Indian police to track him.

The gangster was arrested at a 20th floor condominium of Nhieu Loc Apartment in Ho HCMC's District 3, where he was living with his wife and two children, police said.

The arrest was conducted on October 22 by a joint force of Interpol Vietnam and Agency No.1 that is in charge of handling foreign-related cases, following intimation from Interpol India saying that Pandey may be in Vietnam.

Thanh Nien Weekly learned that Pandey had not stopped dabbling in crime during his stay in Vietnam, although such activities appear to have been confined to India. He was involved in extortion and blackmailing even when he was here, and the police in India's Mumbai City had cases on him as recently as in 2009.

In fact, his involvement in what looks like human trafficking came to light the day he was deported to India. A group of 16 Indian nationals were found by local police stranded in a public park in HCMC on November 4, all but one of them without passports or other valid travel document.

They said Pandey had brought them into the country in October 2010, some days before his arrest, and taken their passports and money, promising jobs and work permits in Vietnam. Since their documents could not be found and Pandey had been deported, the workers were also repatriated. Some of the passports may have been submitted for obtaining work permits to authorities in HCMC and may still be with them, Indian embassy officials told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Vietnamese police only said they found the Indian criminal by applying "professional methods." The Times of India, meanwhile, said police tracked him down via a SIM card issued in Vietnam.

"He had been using a SIM card issued in Vietnam but would not make calls from this number. However, he must have forgotten that he had used the same card while speaking to one of his cronies last year. The number entered our records and we started monitoring it," the paper cited an anonymous police source as saying.

"His phone was being tapped. When the name of a local gangster cropped up, the police was certain that it was Pandey who was using the SIM card. "

Reports from India say Pandey is being kept in an isolated cell of the Mumbai crime branch's two-storey lock up.

Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae told Thanh Nien Weekly that this case marked "a high point of the cooperation and trust between India and Vietnam in general and the police authorities in particular." He commended the relevant agencies of the Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security for their support in apprehending Bunty Pandey.

Asked about the trend of Indian mafia members choosing to set up camp in Southeast Asia, Rae said that "It was necessary to step-up cooperation between the law enforcement authorities of concerned countries."

Pandey's journey in crime began in his home state of Nainital in Uttarakhand. He came into his own in 1995, when he helped underworld Don Chota Rajan execute the killing of Thakiyuddin Wahid, managing director of East-West airlines, outside the latter's office. Wahid had refused to pay extortion money.

His crime run continued for years. Mumbai crime branch chief Himanshu Roy said that Pandey severed ties with the Rajan gang in 2002.

The Indian police source told the Times of India: "He lived in a number of countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia. But mostly he spent his time in Vietnam where he had a work permit and was posing as a labor contractor and consultant."

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