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Two school dropout NRIs in New York duped
Rs 50-crore by investment scam

Their restaurant was an instant hit. Then they sought investments from NRIs and Americans

The Indian Express

Two village school dropouts from Malappuram have allegedly pulled off a Rs 50-crore investment scam in New York, swindling scores of NRIs and native Americans. They were running an ethnic restaurant there.

Kerala police have decided to seek the Interpol’s help to crack the case.

The Crime Branch has arrested 35-year-old Mohemmed Ali alias Mohemmed Kutty, a green card holder. They are looking for his senior partner, 45-year-old Shefin Syed Mohemmed Abdullah.

Police say the suave Kutty had gone to school for only four years and was a labourer in Malappuram before migrating to the Gulf 16 years ago.

Abdullah was a cook in Nilambur and was known for his special biriyani. He, too, had gone to the Gulf and had eventually managed to get himself a sponsor to the US. Kutty tagged along and by 1993, the duo had rented floor space from a Chinese landowner in Queen’s Village, Hollid Town, to set out with their small 15-guest restaurant, the Malabar Palace.

The restaurant was an instant hit with the local NRI community, and soon began drawing others as well. Over the years, it grew in size and its owners gained in stature. ‘‘This restaurant was a favoured haunt for many politicians and VIPs going to New York, with Kutty and Shefin playing eager hosts. This increased their credibility in the largely Indian expatriate community,’’ says P. Abdul Hamid, a Circle Inspector investigating the case.

A few years ago, they began advertising in local and community publications in New York, seeking investment to expand the restaurant. And money poured in. ‘‘They roped in all kinds of NRIs — from nurses to software geeks to traders to even daily wage earners — and a whole lot of native Americans too,’’ says Hamid.

The duo even issued stamped receipts to investors and told them the money would be deposited in two New York banks — Citibank and Northfort Bank. Then, in 1993, Shefin and Kutty handed over the restaurant to a Malayalee crew to run it till they came back from vacation, and took a flight home. They never returned.

Tired of waiting, six of their victims, led by Islamuddin Khan — an NRI from UP who had handed them $1,60,000 — petitioned the Kerala DGP recently, who later asked the Crime Branch to probe. Kutty, who the police say was staying in Indian cities, was caught two days ago in his village.

‘‘After word of Kutty’s arrest reached US, we are now being flooded with scores of petitions and phone calls, from New York and even other US cities. It would be sometime before we get an accurate picture, but it (the scam) already appears to be worth upward of Rs 50 crore,’’ police said.

Kutty’s brother in Malappuram is still a farmhand and there is no visible sign of his riches here. The same applies to Abdullah, though the police say they have found some land deals said to be on his behalf. The police believe the cash is still stashed somwhere. But Kutty’s interrogation hasn’t yielded too many clues. ‘‘We hope to have Interpol in this shortly. That might make a difference,’’ the police say.

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