Haryana hunts for mystery caller who tried to extort using CMO landline
Seven days ago, a BJP leader from Karnal received a string of calls on his mobile phone from a Chandigarh landline number and on WhatsApp. In one call, the caller claimed to be a cousin of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. In another, he tried to pose as Khattar’s media advisor.
All the calls to Chander Prakash Kathuria conveyed the same demand — and a threat: Deposit 60,000 Dirhams (approximately Rs 12 lakh) in a Dubai account number or “face dire consequences”.
Kathuria, a seasoned politician who heads the Haryana State Federation of Co-operative Sugar Mills Ltd (Sugarfed), immediately smelt a scam and alerted a senior police officer.
What happened next took both by surprise.
The landline did indeed belong to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) on the fourth floor of the Haryana Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh.
Today, the calls, the demand and the threat are the subject of a police investigation being monitored by Khattar himself.
“It is a serious matter. The landline number is of the CM’s office. The Chief Minister is monitoring the investigation’s progress. It seems the landline number may have been hacked. But if that is the case, it is an even more serious issue that needs to be investigated,” Rajiv Jain, Khattar’s media advisor, told The Indian Express.
According to police, staff at the CMO have denied making those calls — the WhatsApp calls were traced to a UK number. “We have questioned 7-8 officials at the CMO, one after the other. All of them have denied making any phone call to Mr Kathuria,” a police officer investigating the case told The Indian Express.
“On October 16, I received four calls on my mobile from a landline. It was followed by two WhatsApp calls from a mobile number. The caller asked me to deposit 60,000 Dirhams in a bank account in Dubai or face dire consequences. The caller also sent me an account number on WhatsApp,” said Kathuria, a former BJP district chief who contested unsuccessfully from Karnal in the 2009 assembly polls.
“In one call from the landline, the caller introduced himself as Vishnath Yadav Khattar and claimed to be the Chief Minister’s cousin. I asked him how could he be both — Yadav and Khattar. But he insisted that it was his correct name. In another call, the caller introduced himself as Rajiv Jain, the CM’s media advisor. But I replied that I knew Rajiv and that it was not his voice. The caller than disconnected the line. Then, I received two WhatsApp calls in which the same demand was reiterated… a bank account number was also sent,” he said.
According to Kathuria, he alerted Karnal SP Surender Singh Bhoria and informed Khattar about the calls. On October 17, based on Kathuria’s complaint, a case was registered at Karnal’s Civil Lines police station against unidentified persons on charges of extortion, criminal intimidation and under provisions of the IT Act.
On October 18, a five-member police team headed by DSP Virender Saini reached the CMO to question staffers who handed over records of the last 100 calls made from the landline number. Kathuria and his family have also been provided police protection.
But the big question remains: Who made those calls? “We are investigating the matter,” B S Sandhu, Haryana DGP, said. Kathuria claims to have a clue: “It is a political conspiracy against BJP leaders.”