THE KARNATAKA government is likely to hand over investigations into the “illegal activities” of a 25-year-old computer hacker, who was arrested in a drugs case last year, to the police’s Criminal Investigation Department in the wake of political heat from the Opposition on his alleged crypto currency transactions linked to “influential politicians”.
State police chief Praveen Sood has sounded out the CID on the transfer of nearly five hacking cases involving Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki, which were being probed by police in Bengaluru since 2018, sources said.
The CID is already investigating two hacking cases linked to Srikrishna and his associates: a 2019 case of a Rs 11.5-crore heist from the e-procurement unit of the state’s e-governance cell and an attempted ransomware attack in 2020 on the website of Adani Group-operated Udupi Power Corporation Ltd.
Of the seven cases that Srikrishna has been linked to since his arrest, the police have filed chargesheets in three while investigations are pending in four. He is currently out on bail in all cases.
Over the past week, these cases made the headlines again after the opposition Congress claimed that the police were going easy on Srikrishna and his associates, and alleged that some state BJP leaders had profited from the hacker’s crypto currency access.
On October 27, ex-CM Siddaramaiah tweeted: “There is information about the involvement of influential politicians of Karnataka in the drugs & Bitcoin scam. It is concerning that the investigating officers are trying to close the case to help those politicians.”
Srikrishna, a Bengaluru youth who completed a computer course in the Netherlands around 2014, is regarded even in police circles as a “brilliant hacker”. His arrest in Bengaluru in November 2020 in a case of purchasing drugs with Bitcoins on the Darknet, alongwith a few Bengaluru associates, unearthed a gamut of hacking crimes.
Srikrishna is the son of a chartered accountant while some of his close associates include the son of a doctor, a law student, and two sons of a former bank director including one who was studying in the UK.
In January 2021, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Bengaluru, the police held an exhibition to showcase its state-of-the-art work. One of the exhibits was the arrest of Srikrishna. A police statement with a picture of Srikrishna said: “Hacked 3 Bitcoin exchanges and 10 poker websites. Bengaluru police have so far seized Rs 9 crore worth of Bitcoins from him.”
One Bitcoin is currently valued at over $62,000 or nearly Rs 46 lakh.
However, police sources said, it later turned out that the hacker had “misled crime branch officials into believing he had access to Bitcoins that were actually in an exchange and not in his possession, and this led to the claim of the recovery of Bitcoins from him”. The current controversy has arisen on account of claims made by the accused during investigations that he illegally accessed over 5,000 Bitcoins and other crypto currencies. A police officer confirmed that they were not able to find the stolen Bitcoins.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has alleged that it was the failure of the Congress when it was in power between 2013 to 2018 that had led to the growth of the hacker’s activities. “We referred the case to the Enforcement Directorate in March this year and to the CBI Interpol Branch in April,” he said.
The children of several politicians cutting across party lines in Karnataka are known to have been associated with Srikrishna. He was named in a criminal case for the first time in February 2018 — as an associate of Mohammed Haris, the son of Congress MLA N A Haris — following a pub brawl in Bengaluru.