Cash Mafia is Back

Touts help people with illicit cash in exchanging the now withdrawn currency notes of Rs 2,000 with lower denomination tenders, purportedly in connivance with bank staff. A report by Tehelka SIT

“I got exchanged currency notes of Rs 2000 worth Rs 2 crore with lower denomination tenders within 24 hours of the RBI announcing its decision to withdraw high-value banknotes from the banking system. Of course, all this was black money. During this time, I have come across people who have their rooms filled with illicit cash — all Rs 2000 notes. Trust me, I will get all your Rs 2000 notes worth Rs 10 lakh swapped with other denominations on the same day, but you will have to pay me 15 percent as commission”. This is Surendra Bhati, a member of the cash mafia — which has sprung to life following the RBI decision to withdraw Rs 2K notes from circulation — for you. Surendra Bhati, a resident of Greater Noida, who runs transport business, further told Tehelka that during 2016 demonetization also, he had helped people in getting rid of the banned notes. This is the second time that the cash mafia has become active. It may be mentioned that post 2016 demonetization too, the CBI and the ED had arrested several people, including some bank officials, for illegal exchange of revoked currency.

For someone involved in the illegal business of assisting people with undisclosed money in getting rid of their high-value currency notes, Surendra Bhati comes across as a very ordinary looking person. He behaves affably with those approaching him for currency exchange to gain their confidence. To allay misgivings, if any, about his identity, Bhati would show them identity documents  like Aadhaar card, Pan Card, Voter I-card and his driving license. He even encourages the clients to visit his home in Greater Noida and meet his parents. All this is done to allay any apprehension of those who would entrust him with large amounts of cash. He tells clients that as he is an ordinary person with a family to feed, he can never run away with their cash.

Bhati has a group of people working for him. His two associates, Rajesh Kumar and Harish bring clients, who are willing to pay five per cent commission while exchanging their Rs 2000 notes with lower denomination currency.

Tehelka carried out this investigation after the RBI decided to withdraw Rs 2000 denomination banknotes from system in pursuance of its ‘clean note policy’, and advised the public to deposit the withdrawn notes in their bank account or exchange them for other denominations in the period between May 23 and September 30, 2023.

During the investigation, we first met Rajesh Kumar, who promises people that he would get their Rs 2000 banknotes swapped with other denominations in no time.  We gave Rajesh a fictitious deal that we have Rs 10 lakh in cash comprising only Rs 2000 notes, and we want to exchange these with currency notes of other denominations.

Reporter- Accha 10 lakh se agar zyada ho 2000 ke note?

Rajesh- 30 crore tak keh diye hain mainey.

Reporter- Hain?

Rajesh- Agle bande ko maine kaha hai agar 30 crore tak aa jaye to kya usko change karega..kehta hai haan kar dunga…

Reporter- 2000 ke 30 crore?

Rajesh- Haan wo hi kaha hai maine, bas usmein samay lagta hai, mainey usko keh diya hai ek mahiney tak ka samay de dunga, wo keh raha tha ek month to nahi, wahan jakar hi pata chalega kitna time lagega…maine kaha theek hai

[While agreeing to our request, Rajesh boasted that he can even manage an exchange up to Rs 32 crore of Rs 2000 currency notes]

While keeping Rajesh’s Rs 32 crore deal offer aside, we asked him whether he can get our cash of Rs 10 lakh in Rs 2000 notes exchanged from a bank. Rajesh assured us that he would get the job done. He said that the exchanged money can be transferred to our bank account or put in fixed deposits, or can even be given in cash.

Reporter – Ye batao 2000 ke note band ho gaye hain, 30 September tak badle jaa saktey 2000 ke note pade hain. kisi ke pass.. 10 lakh badalwa do?

Rajesh- Ho jayega.. kaise badalwao gey?

Reporter- Aap batao ?

Rajesh- Dekhiye 24 ghantey ka time chahiye kam se kam, 2 din lag jatey hain.. uske baad account mein dale jayenge ya phir FD kiya jayega ya cash diya jayega.

[Rajesh assured us that he would get Rs 10-lakh cash of Rs 2000 notes exchanged from the bank in 24 hours.]

When asked to spell out how our Rs 2K notes would be exchanged, Rajesh said that he would take Rs 10 lakh cash in two tranches of Rs 5 lakh each. Two days after we hand over the cash, we can get our money back in our account or through FD, or in cash of lower denomination notes.

Reporter- Rajesh bhai kaam kaisey hoga mujhe tareeke se batao ?

Rajesh- Kaam aisey hoga.. aapko pehle aapke 5 lakh rupees jayenge..

Reporter- Accha 5 pehle jayenge, 5 baad mein.. total 10 lakh hain unke pass.

Rajesh- Ji haan…ho sakta hai 10 lakh ek saath bhi chaley jaye.

Reporter- 10 lakh ek hi baar mein badal jayen.

Rajesh- Haan magar usmein lagega aapko 2 din ka time..

Reporter- Theek hai.

Rajesh- 2 din ke baad aap FD karogey to FD, ya paise kaho to paise..jaisa aap kaho

Reporter- Cash dilwa do.?

Rajesh- Theek hai.

[Rajesh told us that cash of 10 lakh would be exchanged in two days. He gave us the options of having the money deposited in bank or getting it in cash. We opted for the latter option. ]

When asked whether he had exchanged Rs 2000 notes before, Rajesh said that he is not directly involved in this note exchange business, but his friend, who has tie-up with a bank manager, organizes the exchange of withdrawn notes.

Reporter- Dekho pehle ye batao tumne karaya hai abhi tak?

Rajesh- Mainey nahi karaya mera ek dost hai, usne karaya hai, uska manager se direct connection hai

Reporter- Kaunsi bank se?

Rajesh- Abhi pata laga leta hoon?

[ Rajesh discloses that  it is his friend who is hands on organizer of entire exchange process]

After making a call to his friend, Rejesh told us that his friend had advised that we should first get Rs 2 lakh exchanged instead of full Rs 10 lakh. This, he said, would help in building confidence. The remaining Rs 8 lakh can be exchanged within a few days of the first exchange.

Reporter- Batao Rajesh kya keh rahe hain ?

Rajesh- Wo ye keh rahe hain, pehle aapko dene padege 2 lakh, wo jama kar denge hum..aapko 24 ghantey mein aa jayengey aapke pass theek hai…aapko bhi vishwas ho jayega, hame bhi.

Reporter- Cash aa jayega?

Rajesh- 500 ka cash le lo, account mein dalwa lo ya FD karwa lo…uske hisaab se phir vishwas bhi ho jayega.. phir jitna karwana chaho karwa lena..

Reporter- Accha jaise 2 lakh hamare ho gaye.. bache 8 lakh.. wo kitne din mein ho jayenge?

Rajesh- Wahi hai 2-3 days..

Reporter- Hafta maan ke chalo poora ho jayega

Rajesh- Haan exchange ek haftey tak ho jayega

Reporter- Kis bank se?

Rajesh- Wo abhi nahi pata.

[ Following his friend’s advice, Rajesh told us to give only Rs 2 lakh for exchange in the first instance. This will make us more reassured before parting with the remaining Rs 8 lakh, he explained.]

In order to ensure that there is no trust deficit, Rajesh told us that he was going to introduce us to his friend. Rajesh told us to see all his identity proofs, like Aadhaar, pan card, driving license, his residence etc before closing the deal. Checking the identity of the person whom you are going to entrust with your cash is of paramount importance, he insisted.

Rajesh- Wo keh rahe mein apna ID dikhaonga, ghar makaan dikhaonga, aadhar dikhaonga, gadi jo chal rahi hain meri uska licence dikhaonga, aur wo kya kehtey hain RC wo bhi aapko check karwaonga

Reporter-Meri RC ?

Rajesh- Nahi-nahi aapka to maal hai, wo apna is liye dikhyenge, pata chale ye banda fraud hai ya nahi.. wo keh raha hai, aap mere gaon bhi pahuchna, mere ghar walon se aur aas pass bhi mere bare mein poochna, k bhaiya ye yahin rehta hai ya kahin aur.?

Reporter- Wo apni keh rahe hain?

Rajesh- Haan ke bhaiya mein fraud to nahi hoon na, wo apni keh rahe hain..

Reporter- Sahi baat hai bhai hamara to paisa jayega, aadmi paisa lekar bhag jaye..?

Rajesh- Aapne diya ekattha wo gayab ho jaye..kya karoge, kahan dhoondoge ?

Reporter- 10 lakh lekar bhag gaya.?

Rajesh- Ab suppose mein hi hoon.. mainey aapse le liya 2 lakh , aur nikal liya yahan se, mainey to koi proof nahi diya na aapko.

Reporter- Aap kiraye par rehtey ho waise bhi.

Rajesh- Haan uska to ghar makaan sab kuch hai.

[ Rajesh told us we can make every enquiry we consider necessary about his friend as, after all, cash worth Rs 10 lakh is involved in the deal.]

After this, Rajesh fixed our meeting with his friend, Surendra Bhati at around 1 p.m. He reassured us that the person involved in this note exchange business is his friend and we need not worry about anything.

Reporter- Haan rajesh ye batao ye aajayenge ek baje, tum bhi rahoge meeting mein, kaam ho jayega ye guarantee hai ?

Rajesh- Guarantee hai..agla proof de raha hai apna.

Reporter- Aur isne badalwaye bhi hain?

Rajesh- Haan.

[Rajesh fixed our meeting with his friend Surendra Bhati and assured us that our work will be done.]

Rajesh told us that he had another client who wanted to exchange Rs 5 lakh cash in Rs 2000 banknotes.

Rajesh- Ek aur banda hai mera.. uske bhi change karwane hai..

Reporter- Kitney, 5 lakh hai 2000 ke note, uske bhi badalwane hain, baat hui aapse?

Rajesh- Haan, meri baat hui hai, usne 2-3 din ka time diya hai

Reporter- Kahan ka hai wo ?

Rajesh- Filhaal yaha ka hi hai.

[Rajesh claimed that another client has approached him to for conversion of  Rs 2K notes worth Rs 5 lakh, but he can wait for 2-3 days.]

Rajesh now told us that he will charge 5 percent as his commission for the work.

Reporter- Tumhara kya hoga usmein?

Rajesh- Dekho ji mujhe bhi kuch chahiye, aapse milne aaye hain…wo bhi lega.

Reporter- Kitna chahiye?

Rajesh- Aapki khushi se, aapki khushi rahey..

Reporter- Phir bhi aapne kuch socha to hoga haan bhai mein itne lunga?

Rajseh- Socha to maine ye tha ki 5% percent lunga?

Reporter- Jo bhi total amount hoga uska 5%?

Rajesh- Ji …baki aapke uper hai…

[Rajesh demanded 5 percent cut for the job though he left the matter to our discretion] 

Rajesh now introduced us to Surendra Bhati, his friend about whom Rajesh had been talking to us. We told Surendra Bhati that we have Rs 10-lakh cash in Rs 2000 notes, and want to exchange it with other denominations.

Reporter-Haan batao bhai Surendra Bhati..

Bhati- Haan bhai batao.. pehle to aap ye batao kitna hai..?

Reporter- 10 lakh rupees, 2000 ke note hain..

Bhati- Bas.?

[For some reason, Bhati expressed his surprise at the proposition saying that he was expecting a bigger amount from us for exchange.]

Bhati told us that we will get the exchanged money for our Rs 10-lakh cash of Rs 2000 notes the same day. It will either be transferred to our bank account or will be given in cash.

Bhati –Same day mil jayega…same day de dengey han.han

Reporter- Same day, 10 lakh rupees, 2000 ke note ?

Bhati- Same day han..han..account mein daal denge…aur batao?

Reporter- Bahut acchi baat hai ye to…

Reporter- Matlab hamarey account mein direct ya cash dogey..?

Bhati- Agar aap cash kaho to cash bhi de denge..

Reporter-Cash bhi mil jayega.?

Bhati- Agar cash chahiye to cash… account mein kahogey to account mein dal jayega.

Reporter- Aur note kaun kaun se hongey..500 ke ?

Bhati- Haan.. 500 key.

[Bhati said that he will get cash worth Rs 10 lakh of  2000-rupeee notes exchanged with Rs 500 notes on the same day.]

However Bhati, later, explained, that it all depended on the availability of Rs 500 notes in the bank on particular day. If notes are available, then we will get our exchanged amount on the same day. Otherwise bank manager will ask us to wait for a day.

Reporter- Kyunki unka hai black money.

Bhati- Dekho mein aapko batata hoon mein hua 500 ka note to same day de dunga usey…agar ek percent bank manager bola ki aapko kal dunga to mein aapko doosre din dunga.

Reporter- Koi baat nahi..

[ Bhati says whether we get the amount on the same day or on the subsequent day depended on the availability of Rs 500 notes in the bank.]

We told Bhati that RBI has fixed Rs 20,000 as a limit to exchange Rs 2000 notes at a time. To this, Bhati said that since he had a tie-up with the manager of a government bank, we should not worry about the amount of money to be exchanged.

Reporter- Kyunki limit jo hai ek din ki note badalney ki 20,000 hai..unko aa rahi thi dikkat.

Bhati- Yahan to bhai bank manager se vaasta hai…aisa nahi hai ke ussey baat karni hai ussey baat karni…yahan to bhaiya kaam hi hai..pehle apna jo kaam personal.. jo kaam uskey baad ye hi hai..

Reporter- Bank jaan sakta hoon sir…branch nahi pooch raha.?

Bhati- XXXXX bank

Reporter- Sarkari bank hai.?

Bhati- Haan bhai koi dikkat nahi hai…

[ Bhati told us that as he has a direct link with the manager of a government bank so we need not worry about whether our money is going to be exchanged or not.]

When we expressed our anxiety over cash of Rs 10 lakh to be handed over for exchange, Bhati, in order to allay our fears, asked us to check his whereabouts before going into the deal. He suggested that we should see his house, meet his parents, check whether he lives on the given address or not. He then went on to show all his  identity proofs like his Aadhaar card, pan card, voter I-card, driving license etc to gain our confidence.

Reporter- Bhati ji ye batao…paise ki kya guarantee hai paisa safe hai hamara 10 lakh rupees.?

Bhati- Bade bhai.. pehle to ye hai….aap pehle mera ghar dekh lo, 10 logon se pehle ye pehchaan karo ke, pata karo ye isi ka ghar hai ya kiraye ka…ghar jakar aapko ye bhi pata padh jayega ke ye Surendra key mata pita hai ya nahi hain….

Reporter- Dekho ji, Rajesh ji ke through miley ho aap.. to hamey to poora bharosa hai…

Bhati- Pehchaan patra,

Reporter- PAN card hai ye to aapka..

Bhati-Pan card, aadhar card, pehchaan patra

Reporter- Arey itna mat dikhao, aadhar card hi bahut hai..

Bhati- Ye licence

Reporter- Accha gadi bhi hai… sarey documents de diye aapney.

[We told Bhati that since we had met him through Rajesh, so we trusted him.]

Bhati told Tehelka reporter that he had exchanged an amount of Rs 2 crore of Rs 2000 notes recently. He further claimed that he had seen rooms filled with illicit cash in the form of Rs 2000 notes in some homes during these days.

Reporter- Aur abhi 2000 ke note change karwa chukey ho aap isi 2023 mein..?

Bhati- Abhi 23 mein abhi bhi karwaye hain…

Reporter- Kitney?

Bhati- 2 Crore.

Reporter- 2000 ke note aapney abhi change karwaye hain.. 23 mein ?

Bhati -Kyunki jis din band hue they na..

Reporter- 23 May 2023 ko band hue they ye …aaj kya hai…aaj hai 3 june 2023

Bhati- Bhai mein aapse kya keh raha hoon aapke pass 10 paise hain…

Reporter- 10 lakh …

Bhati- Bhai mein aapse keh raha hoon ki aapke pass kuch nahi hai..mainey aisey aisey log dekh rakhey hain jinke kamre ke kamre bhare pade hain…

Reporter- 2000 ke noto key ?


[ Bhati told us that the amount of cash we were giving for exchange was no big deal as he had recently exchanged cash worth Rs 2 crore in Rs 2000 notes.]

Bhati claimed that he can even manage a currency exchange in a day up to Rs 2 crore in Rs 2000 notes, depending on the availability of the cash in the bank.

Reporter- To kitna tak badal jayega, ye to mainey 10 lakh bataya.. aagey agar note kisi ke aatey hain to kitney tak ka badalwa dogey aap bank se…same day ?

Bhati- Do crore… 24 ghantey mein.. aaj subah aap 10 baje paisey de do…kal subah bank khultey hi paisey de dunga..

Reporter- 2 Crore ?

Bhati- Haan…

Bhati- Kyunki jo bank manager order karta hai wo aagey ke liye karta mujhe itna cash chahiye.. theek hai na…agar aap ye kaho ki mujhe saath k saath hi chahiye..agar bank mein itna cash hai, to cash mil sakta hai..agar bank mein cash nahi hai to cash nahi mil sakta..

Bhati- Kyunki aagey k liye bank manager ko order dena padta hai..k aagey k liye mujhe note chahiye..

Reporter- matlab aap 2 crore tak ke 2000 k note badalwa dogey..?

Bhati- Haan…

[Bhati claimed that in 24 hours, he can get Rs 2 crore in Rs 2000 notes exchanged from the bank, depending on the availability of cash in the bank ]

Now, Bhati tells how much he would charge for his services. He demanded 15 percent commission for the note exchange. He claimed that all of them, including the bank manager, cashier and the man in charge of the van which brings cash to the bank will share the spoils.

Bhati- Main bataon bhai ismein commission kiska hota hai…bank manager ka hota hai, cashier ka hota hai…aur jo gadi jo lekar aati hai uska bhi hota hai…

Reporter- Gadi jo bank mein paisa lati hai.. wo kyun leta hai bhai ?…

Bhati- Wo isliye leta hai, kyunki bank ki koi shakha to hai nahi, koi yahan hai…koi wahan…wo kehta hua aata hai ki aaj aapka cash itna hi ho payega…to wo isliye leta hai…

Reporter- Accha 15% mein sabko batega?

Bhati- Haan bhai sabko batega..

Reporter- Ismein aapka manager ka kitna hoga?

Bhati- Bhai main manager ko kitna dunga, is cheez par mat jao yaar

Reporter- Accha aapko 15% chahiye…15% kitna ho gaya hamara?

Bhati- Aap hi hisab laga lo, pade likhe ho.

Reporter- Hain….1.5 lakh ho gaya, to ye dedh lahk aapko advance chahiye hoga ya kaam honey k baad.?.

Bhati- Kaam honey ke baad

Reporter- Idhar hum aapko 10 lakh denge, agle din aap ya same day aap humko cash de dogey 10 lakh ka..?

Bhati- Haan

Reporter- 500 ke note,,, 500 ke note nahi hue to aap keh rahe ho agle din ho jayega ?

Bhati- Haan..

Reporter- Agle din bhi jo milega wo 500 k note hi hongey na?

Bhati- Haan 500 ka hi milega.

Reporter- Issey neeche ka to nahi milega..?

Bhati- Nahi..

[ Bhati gave a short shrift to our query as to what will be the exact share of each of stakeholders in  this note exchange deal.]

Bhati tells us that we will have to collect the exchanged cash from him at the location to be given by him later. But there was a caveat: after we leave his place with the money, he will not responsible for anything concerning the cash.

Reporter- Accha jo aap humko 10 lakh cash dogey wo hum kahan se collect karengey, bank se ?

Bhati- Main dunga..

Reporter- Ghar se ya kahan se ?

Bhati – Main aapko apni location de aapko yahan aana hoga…aap aao..jab tak paise mere haath mein hain,paison ko dus baar gino, 10 baar gino, 10 baar… paise mere haath se aapke pass jayengey uske baad aap kaho ye note asli hai, nakli hai…uski meri koi zimmedari nahi hai.

[ Bhati told us we can count the cash for any number of times before leaving his place. But once we leave his place, his responsibility with regard to the cash will be over.]

When asked who will collect the cash from us and drop it to the bank for exchange, Bhati said he himself will collect the cash from us and drop it to the bank.

Reporter- Accha cash hamse lekar kaun jayega..?

Bhati- Bhai mein hi lekar jaunga.. aur kaun lekar jayega..?

Reporter- Ya hum bank mein pahucha de..?

Bhati- Nahi sir nahi nahi..

Reporter- Bank mein nahi..

[ Bhati replied in negative when we asked him whether we ourselves can drop the cash at the bank.]

Meanwhile, Bhati also assured us that we will not face any harassment from police while carrying cash in the area where he operates. However, the responsibility of safely carrying the cash after we leave the area would lie with us, he clarified.

Bhati – Aisa hai mein aapko batata hoon, suno jaisey hum 5 log hain, hum aapas mein apna imandari se kaam kar rahe hain, ke hamara kaam hona chahiye…lekin hamey 6 bande ki ye nahi pata k uske mann mein kya hai…aap jano mujhe…agle bande ko mein jaanta hoon, is baat ki mujhe nahi pata aap cash kahan se laye ho…jo aapki taraf se police system hoga wo aap jano, mujh tak baat nahi aani chahiye, jo meri hogi wo main jaanu..

Reporter- Yani police aur thane ki zimmedari aap le rahe ho.. aap apne elakey ki..?

Bhati- Haan

Reporter- Aur hamarey area ki hamari…?

Bhati- Haan Aapki

[ For the smooth exchange of Rs 2000 notes, Bhati asked us to take care of the police of our area, while he will take care of the police of his area]

Before closing the deal, we once again broached the issue of safety of our money. To buttress his argument, Bhati said that post 2016 demonetization also, when people had approached him to get rid of the banned notes, he had assured them that the job would be done but they would have to put their faith in me.

Bhati- Bhai mainey jis time notebandi hui thi, us time mainey 50-50 rupai change karwaye they, 50—50 , haan lekin us samay bhi maine ye kahi ki aap mujhe jaantey ho, doosre bande ko nahi jaantey, aap paisey mujhe do, jis din mein time doon, mere ghar aao, le jao apna paisa, le jao, mein aapko nahi jaanta na tum mujhe jaantey.

[ Bhati said that post 2016 demonetization also he could help people in managing the banned notes only because they had placed faith in him]

After Rajesh and Surendra, Tehelka reporters now met Harish, a driver by profession. Harish said that his boss, whose car he drives, is into note exchange business and he could help us in converting our cash worth Rs 10 lakh of Rs 2000 notes into tenders of lower denominations. He immediately called his boss.  After he hung up his phone, he told us that the deal is on, and his boss will charge 5 percent commission for the service.

Reporter- Kis se baat hui aapki ?

Harish- Boss se.

Reporter- Boss se jinki gadi chalatey ho.?

Harish- Maine sir se baat ki thi.

Reporter- 2000 k note ,10 lakh ke, kya bole wo?

Harish- Badalwa denge

Reporter- kitne din mein ?

Harish- Ek din.

Reporter- Wo kitna bata rahe hain commission?

Harish – Itna hi bata rahe hain ..5%.

Reporter- 5%.

[Harish after talking to his boss told us that his boss can help us in exchange of high-value banknotes.]

Post 2016 demonetization exercise, Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] and Enforcement Directorate [ED] arrested several people, including some bank officials for illegally exchanging the banned currency and indulging in money laundering. In 2023, six years after demonetization drive, when RBI has decided to withdraw the Rs 2000 denomination banknotes from circulation, and has given people of nearly a 4-month window — from May 23 to September 30 —to deposit these notes in their bank accounts or exchange them for lower denomination tenders of , the cash mafia is back in the business.

Tehelka investigation has exposed three such persons who are ready to help people in getting rid of high-value banknotes of Rs 2000 — that too in a day or two. They demanded commission ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent for their dubious service. We found during the  investigation, that touts promise note exchange up to Rs 2 crore in just 24 hours, while according to the RBI guidelines, one can exchange only 10 notes at a time. They also claimed that till date, after the RBI announced the withdrawal of Rs 2000 notes, they had already converted Rs 2 crore of high-valued notes into currency of other denominations.