There is more to the high-profile car smuggling suspect Alex C. Joseph than meets the eye, say intelligence sleuths.
To them, the son of a schoolmaster from Thiruvalla in central Kerala is the ostensible kingpin of ‘multidimensional financial frauds’ including hawala transactions carried out at the behest of political bosses.
While the CBI launched a hunt for Joseph last week following seizure of purportedly fraudulently imported high-end cars from prominent persons in Chennai, officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in Kerala, which first charged him under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities (Cofeposa) Act in 2000, demand a multiagency probe to unearth his entire gamut of operations.
According to officials, Joseph fabricated documents and conducted hawala transactions to import over 400 luxury cars through various Indian seaports between 1997 and 2000 in the name of benamis working in the Middle East.
After it got wind of the transactions, the agency got the Centre to issue a Cofeposa detention order against him.
Sources in the DRI say Joseph imported cars even from Karachi, hinting at a whole new dimension to his transactions. The detention order forced him to abort operations through Kochi. Joseph took on a new name —Alex Thomas— and shifted base to Chennai, where a search in 2003 caused him to flee to Delhi where he operated from 7 Jorbagh, a high-profile neighbourhood, till 2007. He then moved to Dubai.
DRI officials claim that Joseph, travelling from Sharjah on a passport (Z 1703812) issued in Dubai on October 17, 2004 in the name of Abey John, was detained by immigration officials at Hyderabad’s Shamshabad Airport in November 2011.
He allegedly carried a demand draft for two million dirhams, drawn in favour of Mispa Auto Limited, issued by Cornelius Trading Company (in which Joseph allegedly has a stake) in Ajman.
A letter, addressed to a leader of an Andhra Pradesh-based political party seeking his intervention to settle a dispute with his partner in liquor business, was also recovered from Joseph, say the sources.
A police team from Pathanamthitta took custody of Joseph in Hyderabad but the passport in the name of ‘Abey John’ eventually went missing. In March 2012, the Kerala High Court annulled Joseph’s detention.
While two police officers were suspended following a public outcry, an inquiry into the passport missing case by a special police team has not made any headway so far.
DRI sleuths say ‘Abey John’ possessed at least three passports, the others being T 389522 issued in Mumbai on October 20, 1994 and Z 1269046 issued in Dubai on October 4, 2000.
Though Customs, the Enforcement Directorate and the DRI have conducted piecemeal probes into his deals with varying degrees of success, his suspected involvement in major economic offences like money laundering, hawala and forging of documents seldom came under scrutiny.
“What is all the more appalling is that no measure has been taken so far to prevent him from getting more passports in the name of ‘Abey John,’ a name he denied adopting and travelling on,” lament intelligence officials, accusing the police of going slow on the issue.
“Given his high-profile political links [he is said to have close ties with a controversial Kerala politician] and the magnitude of operations, there should be a comprehensive probe on him by a group of agencies,” they say.