I-T dept finds hawala haven in Kalbadevi

Identical safe houses without adresses raided, money lying idle seized.

The investigation wing of the income-tax department recently stumbled upon a Rs 13-crore hawala trail in the narrow alleys of old-school business district Kalbadevi.

Armed with an intelligence input on "safe houses", the officers initially sniffed around for private safes in the old business backyard.

Unlike banks and financial institutions that offer vaults to secure assets, the department learnt, these "safe houses" were used to stock unaccounted cash.

The "safe houses", sources said, were in rooms that have no formal addresses and that cannot be differentiated. The private vaults were divided into several lockers arranged uniformly, each having a lock and key.

Locks could be rented for short or long terms, with people walking in with keys whenever they needed to withdraw or deposit money for a hawala transaction.

The officers watched one such safe house for over a month, tracking regulars, the routes they took and the money they brought, and were finally able to estimate the scale of transactions.

The officers cracked down to find money lying idle in over two dozen lockers.

The department is now probing its trail. Of the 50 lockers, more than half were being used by established hawala chains in the city.

The information will now be shared at a Central Economic Intelligence Bureau meeting this month that will be attended by state police and CBI.

"Most of it is illegal, unaccounted cash. There have been instances where such money has been used for anti-national activities. We need to share this information with the agencies concerned," an officer said.

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