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Arrest of air hostess with Rs 3 crore in dollar busts laundering racket

NEW DELHI, 10 JAN. Johnny Depp employing an air hostess to smuggle marijuana and cash in the 2001 Hollywood film "Blow" appears to have influenced a Delhi-based money launderer who had been illegally transferring foreign currencies using an air hostess as the cash courier.

A day after the arrest of a Jet Airways cabin crew member with $4,80,200 (Rs 3.21crore), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence sleuths caught Amit Malhotra (40), the alleged mastermind of this international money laundering syndicate.

Malhotra had been sending large amounts of foreign currency wrapped in aluminium foil in Devshi Kulshrestha's baggage for the past six months, police said.

The police have recovered $2,500, Rs 3.3 lakh in Indian currency and documents from Malhotra and are investigating whether Malhotra had more cabin crew on his rolls. The two were produced before a magistrate on Tuesday evening and have been remanded in judicial custody in Tihar jail for two days. More arrests are likely.

Amit Malhotra, a resident of Vivek Vihar, ran a tour agency as a front for his money-laundering activities. According to DRI officials, he was in touch with 15-20 businessmen whose money was first converted into foreign currency and then sent to places like Hong Kong.

The stacks of dollars were wrapped in aluminium foil and carbon sheets to dodge X-ray machines at airports.

Sources said the money was then either routed to tax havens or invested in shell companies there. The Hong Kongbased conduit has been identified and DRI is going to seek the help of external agencies to help catch the person. A diary recovered from Malhotra has several names, sources said. The DRI is also interrogating Devshi's husband who, the police suspect, was also involved in the racket. "The wife was earning a lot of money through this laundering activity. It was not possible for the husband to be unaware or not ask her about influx of cash," said an official. Police are also checking whether this money was being used to purchase gold that would again be sent back to India through illegal channels.

The DRI deputy director said they had intercepted the lady carrier based on a tip-off late Sunday night. The team entered a Jet Airways flight which was to take off for Hong Kong at 11.30pm.

The flight eventually departed around 4am after officials had searched the plane following the discovery of the money wrapped in foil.

Jet Airways confirmed the arrest and said action would be taken "based on investigations and inputs from law enforcement agencies".

After Devshi's arrest, the consignment did not reach the receiver at Hong Kong airport, sending Mahotra into a tizzy. As Devshi's phone had been switched off, Malhotra called her husband to ask about her whereabouts.

DRI officials then asked Malhotra and Devshi's husband to join investigations. While Malhotra was arrested late on Monday, the husband is still being investigated.

Police are conducting raids at several locations on the basis of information provided by the two accused and the recovered documents. Devshi's house and Malhotra's travel agency office and house have already been searched.

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