Two units of the Karnataka police department – the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the City Crime Branch (CCB) of the Bengaluru police – were virtually at loggerheads during the investigations on cases related to hacker Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki.
This was revealed by the CID chargesheet into the hacking and theft of Rs 11.5 crore from the Karnataka government’s e-governance cell following Sriki’s arrest on November 14, 2020.
The chargesheet reveals that the CID sent seven letters to the CCB unit that arrested the hacker, seeking data from computer devices belonging to him and approached a court on two occasions before it was eventually handed over. The chargesheet also reveals that the CID could not obtain custody of the hacker on one occasion in December 2020 – despite obtaining a body warrant – on account of the CCB obtaining his custody for one of its cases.
The hacker Sriki, who is at the centre of a political controversy in Karnataka regarding alleged Bitcoin bribes paid to high government officials, was arrested by the CCB police in November 2020 in a case of buying drugs from the dark web using Bitcoins. He is accused in six cases of hacking in Karnataka, including a Rs 11.5-crore heist in July 2019 at the state e-governance cell.
While the CCB has been investigating cases on the hacking of Bitcoin exchanges, poker sites, a drug case and a Bitcoin-linked cheating case, the CID has been investigating the 2019 hacking of the state e-governance cell for theft of Rs 11.5 crore and a ransomware attack case.
The CID which filed a chargesheet on December 15 against Sriki and 17 others for the 2019 heist at the e-governance cell has documented several instances when it approached the CCB police for co-operation in investigating the hacking and theft at the government portal.
The CID has filed charges of theft, receiving of stolen property, disposal of stolen property, causing disappearance of evidence, destruction of evidence, and criminal acts against hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, his associates Sunish Hegde, a civil contractor, Hemanth Mudappa, a racer, and 15 others.
The chargesheet shows that the CID wrote to the CCB on December 10, 15, 17, and 28 in 2020 and on January 12, 15, 18 in 2021 seeking data retrieved from the computer and electronic devices seized from the hacker after he was arrested by the CCB.
In a letter dated January 12, 2021, a police inspector in the CID’s cybercrime police station wrote to a police inspector in the CCB to “provide necessary details accurately without hampering and scuttling our investigation”. The letter was in response to the handing over of a copy of an external hard disk seized from Sriki by the CCB as well as image copies of two Apple Macbooks used by the hacker.
The CID eventually approached a magistrate’s court on January 22 this year stating that the lack of cooperation by the CCB in providing necessary data was delaying the investigations of the Rs 11.5-crore robbery at the state e-governance cell.
Following the plea by the CID, the first additional chief metropolitan magistrate in Bengaluru ordered the CCB on January 23 to provide copies of the data on the devices seized from Sriki and his associate Robin Khandelwal.
The chargesheet documents in the e-governance cell hacking case also show that the CID initially obtained a body warrant for taking Srikrishna into its custody on December 15, 2020 but could not do so as the CCB police had already taken the hacker into its custody on December 14, 2020.
The CID was forced to move a fresh body warrant application in court for custody of the hacker on January 16, 2021 and the magistrate’s court ordered handing-over of Srikrishna to the CID on January 18.
“As evidential materials with respect to this case are yet to be received from Bengaluru City, CCB police in order to investigate the above mentioned accused person in this case, this Hon’ble court is requested to extend the date of body warrant issued against the above accused person,” the CID said in a plea before the magistrate’s court on January 16.
The investigations into the crimes of the hacker Srikrishna has been clouded by allegations of alleged corruption in the investigations of the case since the arrest of hacker who claimed to have access to hundreds of Bitcoins. “Some of the corruption allegations have come up due to an ego clash between some officers in the CCB and the CID over the handling of the cases against the hacker,” said sources in the Karnataka police department.
In an additional statement in a case where he is accused of hacking a poker gaming site, the hacker Srikrishna has claimed that he voluntarily agreed to give away Bitcoins that were in his possession to the police. “I understood the case scenario that even if I do not give them the Bitcoins they can use forensic methods to find the Bitcoins. Post consultations I voluntarily accepted (sic) to give away the Bitcoins which I had kept in various wallets in different cryptocurrencies,” reads the statement.