Hyderabad— In August, the Telangana police along with the Special Operations Team of Malkajgiri landed in a hotel room in Annojiguda in Hyderabad and nabbed four men.
Two of them - Gajjalakondugari Naga Muneswar Reddy and Sagabala Venkat Ramana - were surgically changing the fingerprints of people who were deported from Kuwait, so they could return.
The Rachakonda police from Hyderabad booked the duo under sections 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (Forgery of valuable security, will, etc), 468 (Forgery for purpose of cheating), 472 (Making or possessing counterfeit seal, etc), 475 (Counterfeiting device or mark used for authenticating documents described in section 467, or possessing counterfeit marked material) and109 (Punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and when no express provision is made for its punishment).
In the 'Happy Residency' hotel room from where the two accused along with two men who were there to get their fingerprints changed were arrested, the police also seized surgical gloves, antibiotic tablets, surgical tape and blades, threads, syringes, lignocaine hydrochloride gel (Local Anesthesia), lignocaine hydrochloride Injection, sodium chloride solution (NS), scissors, bectodine solution and mobile phones.
All the four hail from YSR Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh. But, the fingerprint changing operation was a nation-wide one.
N. Chandra Babu, Station House Officer (SHO) at Ghatkesar police station and the investigating officer of the case told BOOM that they got a tip-off about the "international scam" through the Special Operations Team of the Rachakonda Police station.
"The beneficiaries of the surgeries approached the gang of two after finding out a loophole in the Kuwait immigration system, which paves the way for the re-entry of deported persons by making some alterations to their fingerprints," he told BOOM.
Explaining further, he said that the Kuwaiti authorities take the fingerprint samples of those who are being deported from their country and store the data in their database. "The main objective of keeping the database is to prevent the re-entry of the deported persons. They tally the fingerprints of those who enter their territory at the airport and allow only those whose fingerprint samples do not match with their data base," the officer said.
With new fingerprints, the deported Indians could return to Kuwait — and that was the loophole that two from Rajasthan first found out in September 2021. And then six in Kerala and three in Andhra Pradesh underwent the surgery this year to change their fingerprint pattern.
Why Did The 11 Men Get Their Fingerprints Changed?
The men, 25-year-old Bovilla Shiva Shankar Reddy and 38-year-old Rendla Rama Krishna Reddy, whose fingerprints were changed in the hotel room before they were arrested used to work as construction workers in Kuwait. They were deported back to India a few months ago after their visas expired.
"They are poor and semi-literates. They can only do jobs of daily wage earners in foreign countries," said N Chandra Babu. The investigating officer said that they wanted to make "easy money" as the currency rate of 1 Kuwaiti Dinar is Indian rupees 258.
"The poverty that they come from forced them to opt for the illegal route," he said.
The police officer said that those who underwent these surgeries are involved in petty criminal cases in Kuwait or were staying illegally in the country even after the expiry of their visas.
"They do menial jobs like working at petrol stations, restaurants and hotels and earn money in the form of tips from their customers," said the police official adding that they were desperate to go back so they sought the help of the key accused in the case- G. Naga Muneswar Reddy and Sagabala Venkata Ramana.
How Was The Fingerprint Surgery Ploy Hatched?
The key accused in the 'fingerprint surgery' case Naga Muneswar Reddy has done a certificate course in Radiological Analysist (CRA) from Tirupathi in 2007. He worked as a radiographer in a diagnostic centre, Krishna Diagnostics in Tirupathi.
Reddy met Sagabala Venkata Ramana- an anaesthesia technician and his batchmate- and hatched the plan, the police said.
"Naga Muneshwar Reddy came in contact with one person who informed him that he was deported back to India from Kuwait for staying illegally after his visa expired," the police said. The man told Reddy that he went to Sri Lanka and underwent a surgery to alter his fingerprints and that's how he was able to return to Kuwait, with a new visa.
The story inspired Reddy and he thought together with his friend they would conduct similar surgeries and make money out of the desperate men who are trying to return to Kuwait for work.
The first stop for the duo was Rajasthan.
Through a friend from Kuwait, Reddy found a contact of a person from Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, the two performed surgeries on two men to alter their fingerprints and charged them Rs 25,000 each.
A person from Kerala then got in touch with Reddy in May, 2022 and sought their help to perform the fingerprint pattern alteration surgery.
The duo surgically removed the upper layer - skin and tissue- of the fingertip and re-stitched it. "The wound on the fingers would heal in two months resulting in a slight change of the fingerprint pattern," the police official said.
They performed the surgery on six men in Kerala and charged them Rs 1,50,000.
After their surgeries, they would update their altered fingerprints at an Aadhaar card updation centre on the pretext of changing their address and then apply for a fresh visa to Kuwait, the investigating officer said, adding that the altered fingerprint pattern last for one year.
Can Fingerprints Be Altered Forever?
"The alteration of fingerprint patterns is temporary as they can last from six months to one year based on the health of the individual," the police official said, adding that no surgery can change fingerprint patterns permanently.
A retired government officer who served in the finger print bureau of the Andhra Pradesh government concurred with the police official. "It is impossible to completely alter the fingerprint patterns. However , they can be altered on a temporary basis to gain some short term benefits. The alteration can be done by the mutilation of the upper layer of the skin called epidermis. The accused might have mutilated the epidermis of the fingerprints to slightly alter them," he said on the condition of anonymity.
The 69-year-old retired official explained that the altered fingerprint pattern will go back to its original shape as soon as the altered skin cells are dead. "It is a natural phenomena that the skin cells die continuously and replace themselves with a new layer of skin. The epidermis of the fingerprints is not different," he said.
On being asked whether such fraud measures are being used to get re-entry in any other country other than Kuwait, Chandra Babu said that no other country other than Kuwait keeps such fingerprint data. "Only Kuwait have a system to screen the deportees . The other countries of the world don't have such databases," he said.
The fingerprint expert, however, said that if the fingerprint detection technology is good in Kuwait, the authorities can easily identify the persons who are trying to enter the country by changing their fingerprint pattern. "It can easily be found out if there's a comprehensive screening of the entire palm," he said.
BOOM spoke to a general surgeon to find out about the risks involved in such finger pattern changing surgeries. Dr Sandeep Boila, general surgeon at a private hospital in Mahbubnagar in Telangana said that such surgeries are painful and will leave a permanent scar.
"They are very risky in nature," he said.
The Hyderabad police have sent a letter to the Kuwait embassy, warning them of the fingerprint surgery scam. In the letter, they have asked the immigration authorities to update their technology to prevent the re-entry of the deported Indians.
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