The Madhya Pradesh police claim to have busted a “gang of fake journalists” that was running a blackmail and extortion racket in Jabalpur.
The “racket” came to light after a 28-year-old woman filed a complaint at the Madan Mahal police station on July 29 alleging that a gang of 13 men posing as journalists was blackmailing her. She identified them as Santosh Jain, JP Singh, Arpit Thakur, Ravi Ben, Devendra Yadav, Ankit Shrivastav, Pankaj Gupta, Shailendra Gautam, Vivek Mishra, Komal Patel, Dilip Thorat, Badal Patel and Prem Singh Lodhi.
She was at a friend’s place on July 25, the woman alleged in her complaint, when the 12 men, equipped with cameras and mics, barged in and accused her friend of running a prostitution ring.
“I was in the bathroom and they kicked the door down. Before I could realise what was happening, they began filming me. I was without my pants and they forcibly took off my top as well. They shouted abuses and accused me of being a prostitute. They also roughed up my two friends who were in the house,” she alleged. “Then they told me to pay one lakh rupees. They said they would circulate the video if I didn’t. A few days later, because I couldn’t pay, they circulated my nude video on social media.”
Acting on the complaint, the police arrested eight of the “fake journalists”, while Arpit, Ravi, Devendra, and Shailendra are on the run. They have all been booked under penal sections related to trespass, assault on a woman with an intention to outrage her modesty, and extortion.
The men were known to the complainant’s friend at whose house the incident took place. In a statement to the police, the friend disclosed that she used to work with the “gang” to “honeytrap” government officials. But after she stopped working for them, she added, they threatened to frame her in a prostitution case.
“They made me honeytrap government officials and common people. I would engage them in intimate moments and these men would come with their cameras, film them and blackmail them by threatening to release the videos,” she alleged in the statement, which Newslaundry accessed. “They didn’t pay me much, so I stopped working with them. They began harassing me. That day, when my friend came over, these people barged in, threw condoms around the house, and began filming. They stripped my friend in the washroom and filmed her. They also assaulted me and threatened to frame me in some prostitution case. After they released my friend’s nude video, we decided to file the complaint."
According to the police, the “gang” had been operating for four years. “They honeytrapped people and troubled young couples. They would follow couples around to catch them in an intimate moment, film them and then extort them. They had made press cards and mic logos with names similar to prominent TV news channels like Aaj Tak, News 24, TV9. They claimed to run news websites News Star, Aaj Tak 24, TV 100, News ND 24, and D Live. We checked with the directorate of public relations and there is no record of such outlets,” said Neeraj Verma, station house officer, Madan Mahal. “Santosh Jain is the prime accused. He honeytrapped a sub divisional magistrate and a tehsildar and got them both suspended in 2018.”