A three-storey glass building with a garden balcony and a terrace restaurant, tucked inside a lane choking with showrooms for luxury cars, plush offices and posh banquet halls—Ulhas and his wife Raksha Khaire could not have chosen a better place to dupe people into believing that they were here to make people rich. It was the perfect place for the con couple to float their rogue company, Stock Guru India, in early 2011.
Employees working in adjoining buildings at Moti Nagar in West Delhi still remember the time when thousands would line up to invest their money in the company in the hope of getting big returns. A few months later, the queue gave way to protests by the same people demanding their money back. Earlier this year, men from the income tax department sealed the main gate and declared the couple absconding.
Ulhas, 33 and Raksha, 30, who lured at least 2.5 lakh people into investing their money in their company and fled with around Rs 500 crore, were arrested from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra last week and brought to Delhi. While Ulhas is in police custody, Raksha was sent to Tihar jail on Friday.
Before their arrest, the couple had a successful run for many years. They would promise investors an interest of 20 per cent, pay them in the initial few months and then flee with their money. Investigating officials say Ulhas, who went by the name of Lokeshwar Dev in Delhi, pretended to be a stock market expert.
At their four-bedroom flat in Ircon Apartments in Delhi’s Dwarka Sector 18 A, many of the residents are still not certain if the couple whose photographs are being splashed in newspapers are the ones who had lived next door. The couple had bought Flat No. D 209 in the upmarket housing society. Manesh Krishna H, who lives in an adjoining flat, says, “I never saw them but I would see tall muscular men guarding their vehicles in the parking lot.”
Apart from the apartment they lived in, the couple had bought eight other flats in Dwarka.
From giving holiday packages abroad to those who invested large sums to holding seminars in five-star hotels, Ulhas and Raksha performed the con trick with ease. They holidayed in Mauritius, Macau and Bangkok and sometimes also took their clients along. Sunil Kumar, on whose complaint a case was registered against them in Delhi, says, “I never met the couple. I was in touch with their staff, who were really impressive in the way they spoke and dressed up.”
Ankur Sachdeva, who had invested Rs 12 lakh in the firm, says he had received a number of texts from the company asking him to deposit money and promising high returns. Gurgaon resident Sunil Singh, who invested Rs 1.6 crore in the company, had sold his ancestral land and invested his money in Stock Guru in the hope of getting a good return on his money.
Ulhas Khaire may have struck it big in Delhi but he first tried his hand at cheating in his hometown, Nagpur. At 23, Khaire, who hadn’t even completed his graduation then, floated a company called PVK Group of Companies, promising financial schemes, including home loans, to investors. His first victim was Major Chandramohan Prataprai Virmani, who gave him a cheque for Rs 10 lakh as mortgage against a loan Khaire’s company promised him but which never materialised. Virmani later lodged a complaint of cheating.
At the Khaires’s rented family home in Chandan Nagar in Nagpur, there is no one around. Ulhas’s family—brother Vinod, mother Kamal and sister Veena—who believed he was dead, are in hiding. Ulhas’s grandfather Vitthal Khaire had retired as a deputy collector in Nagpur and father Prabhakar owned a liquor shop which shut after his death.
Landlord Prashant Paliwal says, “She (Kamal, Ulhas’s mother) has been staying here for the past two years. She left the house before Diwali. The police had come for an inquiry a few months ago. We were away that time but Kamal told us they had come to inquire about her son. She admitted he had become a big criminal, but also said he was insulted by someone when he was young and that he took to crime because of that incident.”
According to reports, Kamal is in Delhi to take custody of Ulhas and Raksha’s two daughters. The third daughter, who is just eight months old, is with Raksha.
In 2004, Ulhas left Nagpur for Pune where he started working at a call centre. He later changed jobs and worked with a finance company in Bangalore where he met Raksha Urs. The two married soon after.
Raksha’s Mysore connection
Born in Mysore in July 1982, Raksha had a troubled childhood by all accounts. Her father, Jaya Manjunda Raj Urs, died when she was just a child, forcing her mother, Maya—listed as a “housewife” in her college application—to run a canteen at a local engineering college. “Her mother tried her hand at many things. She ran a PG for some time, even opened a kirana store. She had borrowed a lot of capital money for these ventures and got in trouble with lenders here. I think she fled to Bangalore while her daughter continued to study here. Her brothers still live in Bangalore,” says an elderly relative who lives on Dewan’s Road in Mysore, home to some of Raksha’s maternal relatives.
The Urs families of Mysore have owned prime property in the city since the days of the Maharaja and Dewan’s Road, where large, genteel homes painted in pastel colours line the street, is no exception. “We are a cultured community. One girl’s wrong doings have unnecessarily dragged us down into a controversy,” says a neighbour.
Everyone here must have known Raksha as she grew up, yet don’t want to talk of her and her mother. “Maya cut off all links with the family 30 years ago. We don’t know anything about her,” says a distant relative.
Says Raksha’s aunt, Lekha, who left Mysore in 1962 and returned recently, “No one should be allowed to get away with such fraud. I will say this even if she is related to me.”
At Vinayaka Layout, where the Urs lived in a corner house 12 years ago, the roads get narrower and the houses are packed close together as if jostling each other. “This is the area Maya married into. It used to be a village. They were clearly not well to do,” says a relative. Today, the house Raksha and her mother rented is a women’s PG.
At the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts, Mysore, crumbling walls and hallways bear memories of the young men and women who have walked its corridors since 1982—haunting oil portraits, alabaster busts, and contemporary art. Dean V A Deshpande too has a few memories of Raksha J Urs. “It shocks me to think she was capable of such fraud. She was a bold, active girl and was proficient in languages. She would offer to anchor events,” he says.
After Class X at Sarada Vilas Girls High School—with average grades and a “good” character certificate—a 16-year-old, fresh-faced Raksha joined CAVA for a five-year integrated degree in fine arts, but dropped out after two years. “In the third year, students choose one of six disciplines and Raksha chose photography and photo journalism. She rejoined CAVA after dropping out, but was irregular and didn’t appear for exams. Then again, in about a year, she left,” Deshpande says.
A former friend of hers from college—now a textile designer in Bangalore—who does not wish to be named, says Raksha appeared more and more distant after this episode. “I knew she was troubled about her family’s finances. But when she left college for the first time, it was like something had changed: she was a subdued version of her old cheerful self when she returned,” she says.
Raksha did intend to pursue a career in photography, says Madhu Pandurangi, art historian and guest faculty at CAVA who was her batchmate. “She was a sociable person. She was bright and talked constantly with our seniors about photography,” he says.
After Raksha married Ulhas, they moved to Lucknow, where they started working at a call centre under the false names of Rohit and Kanchan Khatri. They did not stay in Lucknow for long. They moved to Ahmedabad where they went by the names of Dr Raj and Priya Zaveri and from there to Bhubaneswar and Raipur, where they continued cheating credit card companies. In 2008, the couple fled to Dehra Dun.
An institute in the air
Savitri Verma, who runs an advertising agency in Dehra Dun, first heard about Ulhas and Raksha in November 2008, except that they were then known as Dr Rakesh Kumar Maheshwari and Dr Prachi Maheshwari. The two had just set up an institute of psychotherapy and counselling on Chakrata Road in Dehra Dun. Hoping to win them over as clients, Verma went to meet them at their home. She was impressed with what she saw.
“In his well-furnished drawing room, there were several photographs of him with foreigners. He had taken two buildings on rent in the city. All this impressed me,” says Verma. Ulhas introduced himself as the son of an Orissa-based politician who was killed by Naxals. He told her he too was on the hitlist of Naxals and so had sold off all his property in Orissa and come to Dehra Dun. Verma took on the ‘Maheshwaris’ as clients, placing their ads in national dailies to draw potential students. Hers was one of the five advertising agencies roped in by the couple. The admission fee for courses offered at the institute was Rs 90,000 and the last date for admission was December 31, 2008. About 500 students took admission, some paid up the full fee, others paid a few installments.
When the couple fled from Dehra Dun in January, they owed Verma Rs 16 lakh. On January 14, 2009, Verma filed an FIR against them. “The police did not take interest in my FIR. One newspaper in which I had placed an ad for their institute has even lodged an FIR against me,” she says. The Dehra Dun police will re-open the case now.
After living in Delhi, the couple escaped to Goa in 2011 and finally to Ratnagiri in Maharashtra this August.
Endgame in Ratnagiri
When “young and dynamic” Siddharth Jay Marathe came to Ratnagiri, a rapidly expanding coastal district headquarters in Konkan, he told everyone he belonged to a rich and politically connected Delhi family. He flaunted a Toyota Prado with a fancy Delhi registration number—DL 1 CN 0001—and told some neighbours he traded in shares and others that he ran a training institute in equity trading.
He told his neighbours in Udyamnagar, including ASP Nandakumar Thakur, that his family had a lot of property in Delhi but much of it was disputed. “They celebrated festivals with much pomp and show and would keep adding cars and bikes to their fleet,” says Thakur. At the time of their arrest, the couple owned three cars and two bikes in Ratnagiri. He talked with neighbours about bikes and cars, promising them rides on his Hayabusa. He even lent his Prado for display to a local engineering college for an auto expo recently.
About six months ago, Raksha, who had taken on the name ‘Maya’, gave birth to their third daughter. “Siddharth (Ulhas) often spoke to us but never Maya (Raksha),” says Vijaya Salvi, who stays in the flat adjacent to Ulhas’s office, JBP Securities, in Shivrekar Plaza on Hatkhamba Road. “We thought she did not talk to us because Marathi was not her mother tongue. Siddharth (Ulhas) called me Kaku (aunty) like any other Marathi boy and was very communicative.”
Just a day before he was arrested on November 10, a flat owned by an ophthalmologist next to his office was burgled. “A burglar entered the house in the afternoon. As the burglar came out of the flat, Siddharth (Ulhas) and another neighbour saw him and raised an alarm. He was the one who informed the police and gave them all details,” says Salvi.
2004: A case of cheating was registered against Ulhas in Nagpur. He left the town the same year and started working at a call centre in Pune
2005: Started working for a finance company in Bangalore where he met Raksha. They got married and moved to Lucknow where they worked at a call centre under the names of Rohit and Kanchan Khatri. Went to Ahmedabad as Dr Raj and Priya Zaveri
2006-2008: Started credit card frauds in Bhubaneswar and Raipur
2008: Fled to Dehra Dun where they went by the names of Dr Rakesh and Prachi Maheswhari. Set up an institute of psychotherapy and counselling and duped hundreds of aspirants
January 2009: Reached Delhi and posed as Lokeshwar and Priyanka Dev
July 2011: Escaped to Goa
November 2012: Arrested from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra
Properties and money recovered
* 16 cars
* Eight flats in Dwarka, one villa in Goa and flats in Bhiwadi, Alwar and Moradabad
* Fixed deposits of Rs 80 lakh
* Investment in equity shares worth Rs 5.86 crore
* Unpaid demand drafts issued by Syndicate Bank, Moradabad, worth Rs 2.6 crore
* Unpaid demand drafts issued by ICICI Bank, Dwarka, worth Rs 20.45 crore
* Rs 23.41 crore in 94 bank accounts
What was SEBI doing when the Stockguru promoters were accepting deposits from investors with promise of unheard of returns? SEBI went to court against Sahara and the SC ordered Sahara to pay back the investors their capital and 18% interest when no investor specifically complained against Sahara. There are investment companies, registered with SEBI which regularly promise high returns and get away with cheating their customers. There is hardly any quick relief to customers who are misled by such promises. I read in the Forbes magazine about one Ram Prasad of Chehnnai being persuaded by a smooth-talking rep of Aditya Birla Money to invest in a scheme called `Short Strangle' with a promise of 2% monthly return. He transferred shares worth more than Rs.2 crores as collateral for trading by Aditya Birla Money. After two months, he was told that he should pay Rs.39 lakhs to get back his shares because he had lost that much amount in the trades done by the trader! I recommend every retail investor to read that story that appeared in 2010 (just type aditya birla money forbes in google search and you will get that report). It is all right to criticize unlicensed fraudsters but what about those who are licensed by the government and its regulators?