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Telgi: The Master Scamster

Abdul Karim Telgi, the son of a Railway employee who started as a vegetable vendor in trains, went on to become the Mogul of the Murky World. He did this by running the multi-crore counterfeit ‘Stamp Paper Scam’ for nearly seven years. Hailing from Khanapur in the Belagavi district of Karnataka, Telgi had a rough start in life as having lost his father when he was young. Having lost their breadwinner, his family was forced to rely on selling vegetables and fruits to passengers in trains. After graduating college, Telgi moved to Saudi Arabia, where he developed several connections with the underworld. When he returned to Mumbai seven years later, he forged several documents to supply personnel to Saudi Arabia, after which he was caught red-handed and arrested by the Immigration authorities for the offense.

However, behind these bars, he began to brainstorm ideas for what would be one of the biggest scandals in recent history. While in custody, Telgi became acquainted with Ram Ratan Soni, a government stamp vendor operating from Kolkata. Soni hired Telgi to sell adhesive stamps and non-judicial stamp papers for him in exchange for a commission. After bribing their way out of jail, Telgi and Soni started forging stamp papers and expanding their counterfeit business. They mixed genuine stamp papers with the fake ones and sold them for massive profits. As he began to mint money from their illegal stamp business, Telgi created an artificial scarcity of authentic documents. They dispatched documents worth several crores to addresses that didn’t exist to instigate a shortage.

Telgi recruited around 350 agents who looked over operations throughout the country, pioneering a faux industry by himself. He also managed to befriend officials from the revenue and press ministry, with his business being in connivance with highly ranked police officials and people in power. Using these connections he was able to pave his way through several complaints filed against him.

Despite this, his luck ran dry in 2003 when the truth behind his multi-billionaire scam came to light. It was found that a few of his men were arrested in Bengaluru peddling fake stamp papers; their arrest led to the exposure of the fraud and subsequent imprisonment of Telgi. However, he didn’t just stop there. Although he was imprisoned, Telgi continued his operations from his prison cell using smuggled mobile phones; changing his mobile numbers every time the police got a lead. It took a first-hand CBI investigation with a dedicated network and months of groundwork to finally resolve the scam, which was valued to be a whopping 20,000 crores at the end of it!

Telgi was later sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment and fined Rs 202 crores for his crimes. He died aged 56 due to multiple organ failure at a government hospital in Bangalore in October 2017. After seeing the immense size and scope of the story behind the scandal, SonyLiv started production on Scam 2003, a web series featuring the story of Telgi’s Stamp Paper Scam now set to release in 2022. It won’t be much longer until we get to see the details of the story play out for ourselves!

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