True story of Abdul Karim Telgi: From fruit vendor to mastermind of multi-crore stamp paper scam

Directed by Hansal Mehta and Tushar Hiranandani, 'Scam 2003' arrives on Friday


After the critically-acclaimed docuseries, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, SonyLiv is back with yet another installment in the 'Scam' franchise. Directed by Hansal Mehta and Tushar Hiranandani, the upcoming series is based on the true story of Abdul Karim Telgi who pulled off one of India's biggest scams by printing fake stamp paper.

The show is adapted from a book Reporter ki Diary, written by journalist Sanjay Singh.

Who is Abdul Karim Telgi

Born in July 1961, Abdul Karim Telgi hailed from a lower middle-class family in the small town of Khanapur in Karnataka. As a child, Telgi started taking up odd jobs for a living after the death of his father who worked with the Indian Railways. Telgi, along with his mother and brothers, would source fruits and sell them at the Khanapur railway station. He later worked at the railway canteen also to supplement his income.

Besides fending for his family, Telgi also worked hard to pay for his own education. He completed his Class X from the Sarvodaya Vidyalaya English Medium High School in Khanapur and joined the Gogte College of Commerce, Belgaum, from where he completed his BCom in 1984. Later, he moved to Saudi Arabia in search of a job, but soon returned after trying his hand at a couple of jobs, according to reports.

He then moved to Mumbai in search of better prospects where he became involved with a racket that sold fake passports and immigration clearance papers to labourers seeking jobs in the Gulf countries. He was first arrested on charges of forgery in 1991, The Quint reported.

Telgi and Soni

After serving his sentence, Telgi moved on to become the kingpin of a much bigger racket that spread across the country in the 1990s. In prison, Telgi had befriended Ram Ratan Soni, a stockbroker who was serving time for forging share papers. It was Soni who introduced him to the world of stamp papers and sowed the seeds for the massive scam that later shocked the country.

Once they stepped out from prison, the duo collaborated and made use of Soni's wide network of connections with government officials as well as the underworld.

Telgi, the mastermind behind the fake stamp paper scam, orchestrated the crime in two steps—he first created a shortage of stamp papers in the country and then used the opportunity to sell his fake papers worth thousands of crores. A probe revealed that Telgi joined hands with a few officials from the Indian Security Press in Nashik to create the artificial shortage, which he used to grow his racket throughout the country.

For context, stamp papers, officially issued by the government, come in various denominations ranging from Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 100, Rs 500 and so on. These stamp papers, sold through registered vendors, are used as proof of agreement in legal or financial transactions. A certain percentage of the transaction fee goes to the government exchequer.

The racket

The Telgi scam, pegged at Rs 30,000 crore, was spread across multiple states since 1995. Though the operations were centred in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, it eventually spread to Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, Frontline stated in a report.

According to reports, Telgi would initially washed cancelled stamp papers with certain chemicals—making them look as good as new. He would then sell these through his network of officials. He later brought old printing machinery with the help of his contacts at the Indian Security Press in Nashik and started generating counterfeit stamp papers. According to multiple reports, Telgi even colluded with top politicians and bureaucrats to grow his operations.

Arrest and death

Trouble started for Telgi in 2001, when the Karnataka police traced a stamp paper fraud to Telgi. After a similar seizure of counterfeit stamps in Pune in 2002, all attention was on Telgi. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare also pushed for Telgi's arrest and filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court in 2003. The court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) went on to arrest 54 persons involved in the multi-state racket, Indian Express reported.

The CBI, which then took over the probe, submitted its charge-sheet in 2004. Telgi was convicted in 2007, and sentenced to 30 years in prison and a fine of Rs 202 crore.

Telgi, however, was afflicted with AIDS much before his arrest. He died of multiple organ failure in a Mumbai hospital in 2017.