he Gautam Budh Nagar Police seems to have stumbled upon what could be a Chinese spy ring operating from an ordinary village of the district. The wires of this ring run deep into India’s North-East, apart from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and West Bengal.
The lid was blown off the matter late on Tuesday when the Noida Police raided a building at Gharbara village that turned out to be a Chinese-only club. This club was being used as a safe-house and meeting spot by almost 20 Chinese nationals living illegally in India, the police said.
The raid came in response to a tip-off from the Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB) that had nabbed two Chinese nationals on the India-Nepal border last Saturday. The interrogation of this duo revealed that they were staying with friends in a Noida suburb. On Monday, Chinese national Xue Fei (36) aka Kelay-a resident of Xinji, Hebei, and Petekhrinuo (22), a native of Kohima, Nagaland were arrested by the Gautam Budh Nagar Police from a Gurugram hotel after the two were not found at their house in Jaypee Greens.
It was Fei's revelation during interrogation that he was the co-owner of a nightclub in Greater Noida’s Gharbara village which sparked the raid.
According to the police, some 15 to 20 Chinese nationals fled as soon as they got wind of the police raid, but six girls - four from the North-East and two from Nepal - were left behind and arrested. "As per our information, there were at least 15 to 20 Chinese nationals at the bar at the time of the raid. However, by the time officials reached the spot, they had fled, leaving behind only six women,” said Meenakshi Katayayan, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Greater Noida).
Sources said the possibility of a honey-trapping operation being run from the club could not be ruled out and that it was being investigated.
What threw the police in a tizzy was the discovery of a photocopy of Fei’s Indian passport. Fei's Indian visa on his Chinese passport had expired in 2019 and he had been staying in India illegally ever since, said officials.
Fei’s Indian passport had been issued under the fake name 'Kelay' from the Kolkata regional passport office (RPO). The Noida Police have contacted their counterparts in West Bengal as the address against which the Indian passport was issued to the Chinese national is that of Darjeeling.
"This is the main cause of concern for investigating agencies as to how the Chinese national was issued an Indian passport from Kolkata. We have roped in other agencies and experts in Chinese matters to interrogate the arrested accused. That this English-speaking Chinese national is staying for the past three years in India with an Indian passport on a fake name is a major cause of concern for internal and international security of the country. We have informed the Ministry of External Affairs about the developments as well," said the DCP.
Agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) have already been apprised and roped in to investigate the matter.
According to highly-placed sources, other than the passport copy, machines and equipment used in forging documents such as Aadhaar and voter ID have been recovered from the club. Moreover, several blank smartcards- used to make a PAN Card, for instance - were found.
The three-storey building that houses the China bar is owned by a Gharbara village resident and was rented out for five years. "A rent agreement between the owner and four people, including the arrested Chinese national and three Indians, was made in 2021 for the next five years. The bar had been running for the last one year. We are currently on the lookout for the three business partners who are mentioned in the agreement," the DCP said.
“An inspection of the facility showed that it was designed in Chinese style. Its bar and restaurant had items mentioned in Chinese script with no mention of Hindi or English anywhere. It is suspected that illegal activities like drug abuse were also being carried out there though it is a matter of investigation,” the DCP added.
Surprisingly, the ring could not be unearthed despite an excise raid of the location some three months back this year. "Reports that the illegal bar is running had surfaced around three months back and excise officials and local police had visited the place for inspection. At the time, any information regarding the fact that it was being run by a Chinese national impersonating as an Indian or that the bar/club is a safe house for Chinese nationals was not revealed to the police," DCP Katyayan said.
Sources added that the place had no permanent liquor license, but always acquired temporary licenses to serve liquor. "Occasional liquor license was recently procured from June 6 to 12 by the owners," an officer said.
The police are looking for the three Indian accomplices of the arrested Chinese national. "Once we get hold of the Indian accomplices of the arrested accused, things will be clearer,” the DCP said added.
The Indian accomplice in this plot, in whom the police are mighty interested, is one Ravi Natwarlal. He is one of the Indians who have signed the lease agreement of the club’s building and has been named repeatedly by Fei. He is said to be a businessman from Gujarat. The BMW, which Fei was using when he was caught from one of Gurugram’s 5-star hotels, is also registered in the name of Ravi’s company, based out of Panipat in Haryana. The luxury car bears a Panipat registration number.
The club named ‘Tianshang Renjian’ (meaning ‘Heaven on Earth’ in Chinese) is registered as a non-government private limited company at the registrar of companies in Kanpur. It was registered on November 5, 2020, two days after the date on the rent agreement in Greater Noida. The company has two partners, including Ravi, according to the records of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. The name of this company also appears on several documents obtained from the arrested accused.
“This person’s name has come in at several points and he seems to be the point of contact for the accused and others in India. We are contacting local police, but he seems to be absconding and his phone is switched off,” said a police official.
FAKE COMPANIES, MONEY LAUNDERING
Fei and Petekhrinuo had been staying in Greater Noida's Jaypee Greens for the past one year and were in a live-in relationship, said officials.
"During interrogation Petekhrinuo revealed that she met Xu Fei at a nightclub in Gurugram last year and got into a relationship with him after which they moved to a rented accommodation in Jaypee Greens in Greater Noida," said DCP Katayayan.
On Sunday, they had fled to Gurugram after they got wind of impending police action.
The duo also tried to mislead the police, claiming they had a mobile phone spare parts business, which was soon busted, police officials said.
"One of the firms is registered in Ghaziabad which was checked by local police and the address was fake. Another one registered in Panipat, Haryana is also being checked and is most likely a fake one. The business firms have fake GST numbers as well," DCP Katyayan said.
Ostensibly, the girl was a big spender. Looking into her bank accounts, found transactions to teh tune of nearly Rs 52 lakh spread over the last four or five months, burning money on shopping, paid for the Chinese national, police said.
"There are shopping trips of over Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh at a time. The money to her bank accounts was being routed through the fake business companies established by the Chinese national," said the DCP.
"She has five bank accounts out of which large transactions have been carried out in one account. There is a possibility that money laundering was being done. It is being investigated," she added.
Apart from this money, they are also suspected to have been dealing in Bitcoin.
NO CALL FROM CHINA’S EMBASSY
Noida Police said the Chinese embassy in India had so far not contacted the Gautam Budh Nagar Police Commissionerate regarding the arrested accused. "From what we know so far, Xu Fei never visited the Chinese embassy in Delhi after his visa expired in 2019. Though he said that he could not go back due to Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown and movement restrictions, it is hard to believe. It has been over a year since all restrictions on cross-border movement in Delhi-NCR have been relaxed. In fact, international flights have resumed as well. We are trying to find out the real motive behind his overstay in India illegally," added the DCP.
Both Xue Fei and Peterkhrinuo are currently in judicial custody, though the police will ask for remand for interrogation, Katyayan said.
Expressing the possibility of more Chinese illegals staying in the NCR, DCP Katyayan said: "The district police has increased scrutiny on foreign nationals living especially those who do not have valid passports and visas. It is possible that there are more such Chinese nationals living here illegally.”
She added that experts have also been roped in to gather data from the electronic devices recovered from the Chinese illegal, though he tried attempted a factory reset on his phone.
The police have not yet got the Digital Video Recording (DVR) of the CCTV footage at the club.