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‘Bitcoin scam’: As probe picks up pace, Karnataka court ‘keeps in abeyance’ SIT plea to cancel hacker Sriki’s bail | Bangalore News

Even as a Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka CID has stepped up the probe against Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki, 29, and his associates for stealing government funds and allegedly paying state officials in cryptocurrency to cover up their crimes, a local court has kept in abeyance an SIT plea to cancel the hacker’s bail.

A local court in Bengaluru this week directed that a requisition made by the investigating officer of the SIT in the alleged Bitcoin scam case, seeking to cancel Srikrishna Ramesh’s bail and to direct him to co-operate in the probe, be “kept in abeyance” until a medical evaluation for his drug addiction problem is completed.

The court said that it would consider the SIT plea for cancellation of the hacker’s bail in a case of hacking multiple poker sites and cryptocurrency exchanges from 2021 – which the SIT is re-investigating on the orders of the new Congress government in the state – after the Centre for Addiction Medicine at NIMHANS Hospital medically evaluates him.

The SIT’s move to seek cancellation of the bail comes amid a series of searches and arrests that are being conducted by the probe team. On Saturday, the probe team conducted searches at the residences of four police inspectors and a private information technology expert who were involved in the original investigation against Srikrishna and his associates in 2020 and 2021, sources said.

One of the original investigators, Sridhar Poojar, approached the high court last month against a case registered by the SIT over alleged tampering of devices seized from the hacker and his associates in 2020. The high court asked the SIT not to take any “action in the absence of any incriminating material against the petitioner” till October 9. On September 12, the SIT carried out searches at the homes of Srikrishna and two associates, Sunish Hegde, a contractor, and Prasidh Shetty, a close relative of Hegde.

Festive offer

In November 2020, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of the Bengaluru police stumbled on the suspected possession of a large quantity of Bitcoins by Srikrishna following his arrest in a case of procuring drugs over the darknet using cryptocurrency.

Investigation in the drug case led the CCB to file cases against Srikrishna and his high-profile associates for allegedly hacking online poker sites and cryptocurrency exchanges to acquire wealth through illegal means. Sriki’s arrest in November 2020 in the drug case also revealed his role in a July 2019 hacking of the Karnataka government’s e-procurement cell where Rs 11.5 crore was stolen.

The alleged Bitcoin scam cases involving Sriki and his associates has been at the centre of a political controversy in Karnataka with the Congress party alleging that top leaders of the state BJP and police officials received kickbacks in cryptocurrency after the arrest of the hacker and his associates in 2020 by the Bengaluru police – when the BJP was in power.

On June 30 this year, the Karnataka Police under the new Congress government set up the SIT to probe the alleged Bitcoin scam.

In statements given to the police, the hacker has claimed that he gave away Bitcoins that were in his possession to the police following his arrest in 2020. “I understood the case scenario that even if I do not give them the Bitcoins they can use forensic methods to find the Bitcoins after a talk with the investigating officer. So post consultations I voluntarily accepted (sic) to give away the Bitcoins which I had kept in various wallets in different cryptocurrencies,” reads a statement attributed to Sriki which is a part of the chargesheet in one of the cases filed against the hacker in 2021.

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Earlier this week, the SIT arrested three persons – Harwinder Singh, Nithin Mesharam and Dinesh Patel – who were involved in helping the hacker gang launder the Rs 11.5 crore that was stolen from the Karnataka e-procurement portal in July 2019.

The ED had earlier filed a chargesheet regarding the laundering of the funds stolen from the e-procurement portal where a total of Rs 1.43 crore is reported to have been recovered. A special court hearing PMLA cases has issued summons to all 19 persons named by the ED in the laundering of funds.

The hacker and three associates have also approached the Karnataka High Court seeking to quash the e-procurement cell hacking case on the grounds that the investigation was conducted by a police inspector when a Superintendent of Police and Deputy Superintendent of Police are notified as officers in charge of the CID cybercrime station.

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