The smuggler who resorted to blackmail | Sunday Observer

The smuggler who resorted to blackmail

23 October, 2022

Many Sri Lankans now travel to Madagascar in search of gems. On their return, they sell these claiming to be Blue Sapphires from Ratnapura to gullible foreigners. Among these are gem merchants from Ratnapura and Beruwala. Meanwhile, there are some merchants who collect cheap gems from Madagascar and Ratnapura for sale in the Indian market.

Ishaad is one such gem merchant from Beruwala. Though unknown to the public, his name is well-known among gem merchants in the country. A wealthy man, he is seen in society as a down-to-earth, humble and religious man. With tourists to Sri Lanka dwindling due to Covid and the economic crisis, Ishaad’s focus shifted to the Indian market. He often travels between the two countries. It is alleged he also carries out other dubious business activities during these visits.

Ishaad, who travels to India at least twice a month, made another visit to the country during the second week of October. In Chennai, Ishaad meets a woman called Fathima quite by chance. The day was October 12. Fathima, a mother of three from Jumma Masjid Road, Maligawatta had arrived in India for an illegal transaction despite claims of visiting the country to purchase textiles.

In reality, Fathima was an Undiyal agent who transferred black money from Sri Lanka abroad while she also worked as an agent to move money among countries during these travels. She would hide the money on her person and bags to smuggle it out of Sri Lanka. Most often than not her destination was Dubai pretending to be a tourist. Unknown to local authorities, she had carried out this racket for a long period.

Return with gold

After smuggling the money out of the country, Fathima would return with gold jewellery of the same value. At times their value was said to be almost Rs. 10 million. Fathima is also believed to smuggle in cigarettes, mobile phones and many other items undetected by Customs officials.

Fathima would travel to India to carry out the same illegal racket. She is also believed to be involved in various unscrupulous activities carried by Sri Lankan criminal gangs and drug smugglers.

At times she would leave for Dubai or India in the morning only to return at night the same day. She would travel thus at least once or twice a month. In certain months this would even be around 10-15 times. Often two or three other women would accompany her. Despite all these obvious signs, Fathima had never been stopped or caught by law enforcement agencies. It remains unclear to this day as to how her numerous visits to these countries did not arouse the suspicion of the Sri Lanka Customs or Immigration officials in Colombo.

Ishaad is said to have been attracted to her following the meeting in India despite having no knowledge of her background. The duo had built up a relationship after meeting abroad.

Fathima left Chennai on October 14 despite Ishaad’s attempts to extend her stay by two days. However, she refused as she was set to carry many items with her to Sri Lanka. Ishaad had given her gifts and money prior to her departure.

However, Ishaad had no intention to continue this relationship in Sri Lanka. However, within days Fathima had sent him a video showing them engaging in sexual acts to his great alarm. She had then gone on to blackmail Ishaad, threatening to send the video to the members of his family including his wife.

Fathima had then demanded Rs. 7 million from Ishaad to not publicise the video of the duo. Ishaad, getting to know her background, had decided to hand over the cash to avoid any further issues. Therefore, calling a friend in Sri Lanka from India, Ishaad requested him to deposit Rs. 1 million to a bank account belonging to Fathima.

However, Fathima refused to be satisfied with a mere Rs. 1 million and demanded he pay the full amount she requested. She also threatened to inform his family of their liaison and give them the video as evidence. Fathima believed Ishaad would cough up any amount demanded to prevent the video from being leaked.

Help of the police

Intending to entrap Ishaad further, Fathima had travelled to Beruwala to gather information on his family. Having stalked his daughter to school, Fathima had secretly taken photographs of the child and the house, sending these to him to pressure him to pay up.

However, Ishaad failed to be convinced that the issue would end even if he paid her in full. In the end, the businessman sought the help of the Police.

Relating his story to a top official, Ishaad revealed all the sordid details. Following this, the Police officer sets up a special police team to trap the woman. This task was handed over to the Kalutara Crime Investigation Divisions functioning under SSP Kapila Premadasa.

The team of officers led by OIC CI Sanath Kumara lay in wait near the Beruwala Police Station on October 17 till Fathima arrived to collect the remaining Rs. 6 million from Ishaad. As Ishaad handed the money over to her at the designated spot, Policemen in civvies surrounded the suspect preventing her escape. Police checking her mobile phone were able to extract the entire video of the duo as well as information on other scrupulous activities she had carried out during her trips to Dubai and India.

It also included information relating to gold smuggling and the Undiyal illegal money transfer system that often deals a death blow to the country’s economy. Fathima has since been remanded while Police continue investigations based on the information extracted from her mobile phone.