SINGAPORE: A 42-year-old Indian national, Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, has been extradited to the United States, where he faces charges related to a massive India-based telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering conspiracy targeting thousands of US victims.
Patel allegedly operated the HGlobal call centre conglomerate and participated in a complex fraudulent scheme involving a network of call centres based in Ahmedabad, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) website on Friday (Apr 19).
"Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, India-based conspirators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the IRS or US Citizenship and Immigration Services," the website stated.
"According to the indictment, the call centre conspirators then threatened victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.
"When victims agreed to pay, the call centres used a network of US-based conspirators to quickly liquidate and launder the extorted funds through the use of stored value cards or via wire transfers.
"As alleged in the indictment, the stored value cards were often registered by the scammers using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and conspirators collected the wire transfers by using fake names and fraudulent identifications."
The indictment also alleges that victims were cheated through other schemes including being offered fake short-term loans or grants.
The conspirators are accused of requesting a "good-faith deposit" to show the victims' ability to pay back the loan or a fee to process the grant. But the victims never received money after making the requested payment.
In a joint release on Saturday, Singapore's Attorney General's Chambers and police elaborated that Patel had carried out the scheme from January 2012 to October 2016, defrauding more than 15,000 victims in the US of at least US$230 million.
The Singapore authorities added that 24 of Patel's co-conspirators have been sentenced in the US to up to 20 years' jail, "in what has been described as the first-ever large-scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call centre scam industry".
Singapore received a request from the US government for Patel's extradition in September last year, said local authorities, after the man had flown into Singapore from India.
"In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and pursuant to a Warrant of Apprehension issued by the State Courts of Singapore, officers from the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force had arrested Patel on 21 September 2018," the release stated.
"The State Courts held that Patel was liable to be extradited to the US to stand trial for general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy," it added.
According to the DOJ website, a warrant for Patel to be delivered into US custody was issued on Mar 25 by Law Minister K Shanmugam.
“I cannot compliment enough the hard work and effort put into this case by the agents, analysts and attorneys of the many agencies involved,” US Attorney Ryan Patrick was quoted as saying.
“Large complex international cases like these often take years to bring in foreign-based defendants. I applaud our global partners in helping bring this case closer to a conclusion.”
Singapore authorities also said: "This case underscores Singapore’s commitment to working in close cooperation with our international counterparts in the context of transnational crime, so that enforcement agencies are able to effectively deal with persons operating across borders."
This story has been updated to include information from the United States Department of Justice.