The Enforcement Directorate (ED)’s questioning by Raj Kundra, businessman, and husband of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, at its Mumbai office in connection with an alleged bitcoin scam for eight gruelling hours may have opened up a can of worms with many the names of many celebrities cropping up, according to recent reports.
The high-profile celebrities whose names came up during the questioning are Sunny Leone, Prachi Desai, Aarti Chhabria, Sonal Chauhan, Karishma Tanna, Zareen Khan, Neha Dhupia, Huma Qureshi, and Nargis Fakhri. The law enforcement agency may also question Kundra’s wife, actress Shilpa Shetty. The questioning revolves around Raj Kundra alleged links with Amit Bhardwaj, who has been accused of a $300 Mn bitcoin scam.
As reported yesterday (June 5), Kundra’s name in the said scam cropped up during the ongoing interrogation of Amit Bharadwaj.
Bitcoin Scam: The Ongoing Saga
It’s been two months since Amit Bhardwaj and his brother Vivek Bhardwaj were arrested from the Delhi Airport on their arrival from Bangkok on charges of allegedly cheating 8,000 people across the country and abroad to the tune of $300 Mn (INR 2,000 Cr).
In 2016, Bhardwaj had established a slew of startups which were dealing with all the aspects of cryptocurrencies — mining, exchange, wallet, research and development, and MLM schemes.
The scam came to light when, in July last year, Zakhil Suresh, a GainBitcoin investor, started a petition on change.org. Signed by more than 1,000 people, the petition appealed for Bhardwaj’s arrest for alleged fraudulent schemes.
The police had also arrested seven people, including Hemant Vishwas, Hemant Babasaheb Chavan, Ajay Tanaji Saheb, Pankaj Srinandkishore, and Chandrakant Bhope, in connection with the scam. A couple of weeks ago, Darwin Labs founders Sahil Baghla (former Bluegape founder) and Nikunj Jain (former Frankly.me founder and an angel investor) had been arrested in connection with the Bhardwaj case.
Although this is the most high profile cryptocurrency scam to come to light in India, there have been previous instances where cryptocurrency, a relatively new concept with lack of clarity around how the technology works, has been used to lure naive victims all in the hopes of making a quick buck.
Last year, a gang of crooks which floated a fictitious cryptocurrency Kashhcoins set up a website and duped several people in Delhi and other parts of the country before the crime branch arrested a key player. The arrests came after the police were tipped by one of the buyers who was duped off $21,824 (INR14 lakh).
Cases like these are a definite blow to bitcoin enthusiasts in India who hope to see the digital currency be made legal. Right now, the cryptocurrency is neither legal or illegal, but the government and authorities seem to be very critical of it.
In fact, the RBI banned banks from allowing people to transfer money from their bank account into bitcoin wallets. Laws and regulations, to a certain extent, are dictated by the public’s awareness and its perception. Cases like these can lead to increased distrust among both consumers and regulators.
With celebrities getting involved in the Bitcoin scam, many will be introduced to the world of cryptocurrency through the Bhardwaj case, which could serve as a precedent of what is to come in the future of Bitcoins and cryptocurrency in India.