By Sai Manish
A LIE-LACED, blood-fuelled journey into extortion that had begun in Nainital ended in the bylanes of Hanoi, Vietnam. On 3 November, the law caught up with extortionist and former Chhota Rajan associate, Bunty Pandey alias Prakash Narayan Pandey, six years after an Interpol Red Corner notice was issued against him.
This son of an army subedar may be just No. 36 on the most wanted list, having managed to get there on exaggerated claims of ruthlessness, even taking credit for crimes he hasn’t committed. But in Pandey lies the key with which the police will look to decode the remnants of the underworld that continues to orchestrate crimes from remote locations.
Pandey, who is facing prosecution in 34 criminal cases, was holed up in a rented apartment by the banks of the Nhieu Loc canal in the Phu Nhuan district of Vietnam’s teeming Ho Chi Minh City. There have been conflicting reports of how he was nabbed. Some say his own men, disgruntled with his broken promises of financing their families, turned him in. But he was eventually done in by his own laxity and cocksureness.
“Since 2002, Pandey has been living in Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Bangladesh and Nepal,” says Mumbai’s JCP (Crime) Himashu Roy. Pandey’s footloose ways and his movement through a geographical area known to be a safe haven for the world’s most wanted, meant that the police knew very little about him.
Desperate to get in touch with one of his men in Mumbai, Pandey used a Vietnam SIM card to call one of the bhais who was on the police blacklist. His call was intercepted. Suspicions were aroused. The Crime Branch dispatched a decoy to Ho Chi Minh City, who lived in the same locality as Pandey, constantly monitoring him and transmitting inputs to Mumbai. Evidence was handed over to local authorities, who caught him in Hanoi.
According to JCP Roy, Pandey had assumed the name of Vijay Subash Sharma and even had a passport under that name issued by the Indian embassy in Phnom Penh. (The Indian embassy has denied issuing a passport to anyone by that name).
TEHELKA SPOKE to Nainital SSP MS Bangyal, who had arrested Pandey for the first time in 1999 when he was trying to expand his horizons beyond dealings with the Uttar Pradesh liquor mafia. “He is not a big hitman as people have made him out to be. He takes credit for things he has not done,” claims Bangyal, who was in hot pursuit of Pandey after a failed assassination bid on rival Ramesh ‘Mumbaiya’ Chilwal in Haldwani. Pandey missed the mark, killing two bystanders. He made another attempt on Chilwal’s life in a hospital but ended up killing Lathata Ali, a head constable and Afroz Ali, a patient. The police managed to arrest Pandey but sheer carelessness by two constables on duty helped him flee.
Pandey wanted to strike it big and soon joined forces with Rajan. “He is the kind of extortionist who will ask for Rs. 50 lakh but will settle for Rs. 50,000,” says Bangyal. No wonder there is still an element of scepticism over his claims of bumping off ACP Rajbir Singh in the Capital and abetting the sensational escape of Rajan in Bangkok.
No one knows if Pandey’s extortion call to Shah Rukh Khan after the phenomenal success of Om Shanti Om yielded any rewards. Perhaps, he will sing like a canary once the grilling starts.