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Noida fake call centre: Fate of 45 NE youths hangs in balance 

Court reserves order on bail plea of 126 ‘staffers’ who were held on Dec 21 last year following FBI investigation

Greater Noida: With a court reserving its order on the bail plea of those arrested on December 21 last year for allegedly working in a fake call centre in Sector 63, Noida, the fate of 45 youths from Northeast -- out of the total 126 held -- hangs in balance.

While the lawyers representing the arrested youths claimed that they were merely staffers of the call centre, with most of them working only to make some money unaware of its background, the court asked the petitioners to produce proof like appointment letters to established their claims. It also asked for salary slips to substantiate the same.

“If there is any criminality, it can only be on part of the masterminds like Jimmy Asija, Narendra Pahuja and Sagar Thakkar alias Shaggy, who are roaming freely. They have approached the Allahabad HC, claiming that they do not have any link with the call centre," a lawyer representing the accused said.

The call centre employees were arrested on December 21 last year following an investigation by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on suspicion of fraudulent calls made from India to the United States for extorting money from the country's citizens.

However, the arrests have been widely contested for invoking Sections of the IPC which deal with extortion, threat and violation of the IT Act 2008. According to advocate Sanjay Sharma, who is appearing for the arrested persons at the Allahabad High Court, the police have wrongly booked them under Sections 420, 387 of the IPC and Section 66 of the IT Act, 2008 because “they were working in an organisation, but the police have mentioned them as running the call centre.”

Of the arrested 45 persons from the Northeast, 30 are from Nagaland, 11 from Manipur, three from Meghalaya and one from Assam.

Sharma said, “These people do not know each other, then how can they form an organisation? They were actually employed by the three main culprits known for running fake call centres and were not even arrested.”

According to the FIR filed by the police at Gautam Buddh Nagar in Noida, at the time of the raid, 312 computers were seized in active mode. “That means there were 312 people working at the time of the raid,” said the counselor, questioning: “Why were then the rest of the persons allowed to go?”

Although the FIR mentions the names of three persons “who are actual employers”, they were not arrested from the office. Of the trio, Thakkar is already known for running sham centres in Mumbai and Ahmadabad.

“Most of the arrested persons were recruited through placement agencies and they were trained to speak in certain accent. They were asked to make calls to US and Canadian citizens to inform them about stolen social security numbers,” Sharma said.

Adding to the lawyers' views, Vipin Gaur, general secretary of the Newspapers Association of India, said, “The return calls would simply go to the three masterminds who threatened the foreigners posing as special agents and extorted money from them. The arrested people were only involved in making the calls.”

Speaking about the vulnerability of the arrested persons, both Sharma and Gaur said that the victims were assured that they would be released within two to three days after their arrest.