The Mumbai Police arrested 18 people on Sunday and Monday after a senior editor of The Times of India complained that his secretary had conspired “with unknown persons” to make payments worth Rs 15 crore for freelance articles that were never actually written or published.
According to a statement made to the police by Derick D’sa, an associate executive editor at the newspaper, since, 2013 Amit Mayekar had got him to sign invoices for payments to 78 contributors who have “never written any article for TOI anywhere in the country”.
D’Sa approched the Azad Maidan Police Station in South Mumbai with the complaint on Sunday, after which an FIR was lodged against Mayekar and other unidentified individuals. Mayekar, who recently moved home from Kalyan in the outer suburbs to a more upmarket development in Vikhroli, is absconding. The case is being handled by the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the police Crime Branch.
The 18 people arrested have been remanded to police custody until May 11. The bank records of all these people show that they received money from Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd, which own The Times of India, the police said. “It is too early to share any details but the 18 people who we have arrested so far are beneficiaries of the fraud,” said Dilip Sawant, the deputy commissioner of police, detection.
D’Sa told the police that he trusted Mayekar completely. “I am the only one in TOI, Mumbai, who clears payments of part-time contributors,” his statement said. “To transfer the amount of the part-time contributors, he or she has to be registered in our system with the copy of the PAN card and a cancelled cheque so that a vendor code can be generated.” By using the vendor code, the payments may be directly transferred to the accounts of the contributors. However, D’Sa’s approval was necessary before any such transfers are made.
“I used to sign all the invoices...that were presented to me by Mayekar in trust on a regular basis...” the statement said.
The police said that these fake contributors had received anywhere between Rs 20 lakh to Rs 38 lakh from Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd over the past five years.
The police have booked the accused under Section 408 of Indian Penal Code (criminal breach of trust by clerk or servant), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), sections 465, 467,468, 471 (pertaining to forgery) and Section 120 (b) which details the punishment for criminal conspiracy.