The case of the cashback boss: Many unanswered questions in Paytm extortion probe


On the face of it, Paytm extortion was made to look like an open and shut case. A billionaire was being blackmailed for his personal data theft, and the police caught the key perpetrators and arrested them. Right? Not in this case, it seems.

More than a month since the arrest of three accused in the case of alleged personal data theft and blackmailing of Paytm’s boss Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the case seems to be stuck with hardly any movement. In fact, with every new development, new questions arise.

For Sharma, the case surfaced at a particularly heady time for him and his firm specifically, following the news of his fundraising from yet another global investor, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group. That rounded off his list of marquee investors very well, following Softbank and China’s Alibaba group.  

Despite police claims of this being an open and shut case – Prime accused Sonia Dhawan, Devinder Kumar have confessed their crime, even as another accused, Dhawan’s husband Rupak Jain,  has been maintaining that he’s being framed by cops on Sharma’s direction.

While Jain’s bail application was denied, and Devinder hasn’t applied, Dhawan’s hearing for the same is scheduled on 4th December.

Dhawan had previously mentioned through her lawyer that she was under pressure to sell her ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Plan Shares) and falsely implicated in the extortion case.

Most surprisingly, the fourth accused – Rohit Chomwal – who apparently made extortion calls to Sharma and his brother Ajay Shekhar, was earlier at large and now has been granted protection from arrest by the Allahabad High Court.

This triggers a big question – Why has the police been unable to arrest Chomwal in the initial three weeks (from Oct 22 to Nov 12)? And if he is an accused, why hasn’t the police challenged his alleged legal protection from arrest in the court?

According to Chomwal’s lawyer quoted by an Economic Times report, he actually helped police and Sharma to identify the real accused. Based on these grounds, Chomwal is pleading for rejection of the FIR against him and ignore his role in making the alleged extortion calls completely.

Perhaps, if he had explicitly taken up the role of an approver, his requests would have been justified to an extent where he pleaded for leniency. However, the case offers no clarity on this either.

Didn’t the police need to question Chomwal? In its order, the court said that he shall not be arrested till the police collect credible evidence against him. However, does the police not have credible evidence against Chomwal already?

The police and complainant’s story is that Chomwal had made extortion calls to Sharma and the latter also paid him Rs 2,00,067 but Sharma asked him to spill the beans, which, he allegedly did. According to police, ‘woh pighal gaya aur sab naam bata diye’ (he failed to resist the pressure and bust the nexus).

Isn’t it surprising that Chomwal, who was an integral part of the extortion plot, revealed the everything to Sharma on a WhatsApp call?

While police have claimed to have recorded the confession of Dhawan, Jain and Devinder, the statements aren’t admissible in the court as they were not recorded before a judicial magistrate. Again, the reason behind police not opting to record statements of Dhawan, Jain and Kumar under Section 164 (in front of magistrate) is unfathomable.

Adding to the mystery, Dhawan and her husband had also lodged a complaint of receiving an extortion call for Rs 5 crore just a day after Sharma did. The police also traced this number and sent a special team to Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh) to nab the caller. This trail seems to have been left to lie cold.

It really points out to the inefficiency of the police in identifying and arresting the caller.

Overall, an extortion call to Sharma turns out to be a bizarre case where the number of unanswered questions is immeasurably higher than the scanty answers provided so far.

In a month where a storied founder at Flipkart was unceremoniously dropped on what could almost be described as a technicality, Vijay Shekhar Sharma should count himself lucky to have had the unstinted support of his own storied investors even with so many unanswered questions. Or does he? Perhaps, that is yet another unanswered question for now.  

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