Indian Cops Arrest Alleged Kingpin Behind U.S. Tax Scam

The scam reportedly targeted thousands of Americans, netting more than $300 million.

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian police said on Saturday they have arrested the alleged mastermind behind a call center scam run out of a Mumbai suburb that targeted thousands of Americans and netted more than $300 million.

Sagar Thakkar, also known as Shaggy, was arrested at the Mumbai international airport in the early hours of Saturday after he flew in from Dubai, Mukund Hatote, a police officer on the case, told Reuters.

In October, the U.S. Justice Department charged more than 60 people in India and the United States with participating in the huge scam where call center agents impersonated Internal Revenue Service, immigration or other federal officials and demanded payments for nonexistent debts.

The department said at least 15,000 people had been targeted by the telefraud that was run out of India.

The scam was blown open in early October, when Indian police raided a host of call centers in the Mumbai suburb of Thane and detained over 700 people allegedly involved in defrauding Americans. Other call centers involved in the scam that operated from the western city of Ahmedabad were also raided and shut down by authorities.

Thakkar was listed as a call center operator and payment processor in the U.S. Department of Justice indictment that charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.

According to the U.S. DoJ indictment, call center operators threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties.

Payments by victims were laundered by a U.S. network of co-conspirators using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, often using stolen or fake identities, the indictment said.

U.S. and Indian authorities have been working together on the investigation. The U.S. had said it would be seeking the extradition of the alleged scamsters based in India.

Indian police have previously said that Thakkar led a lavish lifestyle, frequenting five-star hotels and driving around in expensive cars. Police believed that Thakkar had fled overseas after the scam was uncovered.

Reuters has been unable to contact Thakkar for comment.

(Writing by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Euan Rocha and Richard Pullin)