Chance arrest on Bihar-Nepal border leads to sprawling illegal club in Delhi’s outskirts
The chance arrest of two Chinese nationals at the Bihar-Nepal border by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) earlier this month led the Uttar Pradesh Police to a sprawling club run illegally by a Chinese national in a village on the outskirts of Delhi. The club functioned had under the radar without any obstruction for the past two years in Greater Noida, only 40 km from the national capital.
As on Saturday, Xue Fei (36) alias Lekpa Sherpa, a Chinese national, and Petekhrinuo (22), a resident of Nagaland, had been arrested by the police, while three Indians and another Chinese national were on the run. Police and internal intelligence agencies suspect the arrests could be linked to a larger syndicate of organised crime that may include espionage.
The club called Tiangsheng Rianjen (‘heaven on earth’) was stocked with Chinese products and served mainly Chinese expats.
The police found Mr. Xue a tough nut to crack. When they interrogated Mr. Xue for three days, he hardly showed any sign of exertion. Perched on a plastic chair in a police interrogation room in Greater Noida, the police officers were amazed by his resilience.
“Even at night, after hours of interrogation, he was barely tired. He took quick naps sitting on the chair but did not express any desire to lie down. It seems he is well-trained to sustain interrogations,” a senior police officer who interrogated Mr. Xue said.
Mr. Xue, currently in an Uttar Pradesh jail, is accused of living in India on a forged Indian passport and running the exotic club illegally.
On June 11, the SSB apprehended two Chinese nationals — Yung Hai Lung and Lo Lung — at the Nepal border in Bihar’s Sitamarhi while they were trying to cross over to the neighbouring country. Their interrogation revealed they had spent 15 days at Mr. Xue’s place in Greater Noida. Bihar Police passed the information to the Uttar Pradesh counterparts. When the police reached the apartment in a luxury housing society in Greater Noida, it was found to be locked. The police traced Mr. Xue and Ms. Petekhrinuo to a five-star hotel in Gurgaon on June 13 and the couple were placed under arrest.
The local police were prepared to shut the probe as yet another case of the illegal stay of a foreigner in Delhi’s satellite town till an officer, Meenakshi Katyayan, analysed the phone call records of the two suspects.
Ms. Katyayan said that during questioning, Mr. Xue never admitted to the existence of the club. He had destroyed his Chinese passport and from his apartment, police found photocopies of a Voter ID, Aadhar card and an Indian passport issued from Darjeeling in the name of Lekpa Sherpa. He said he had come to India in 2019 on a business visa, and couldn’t return as his visa expired and air travel was banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. “He said he couldn’t return even after travel restrictions were lifted last year as he did not have enough money to purchase tickets. I knew he was lying as we had recovered two BMWs [imported vehicles] and another luxury car from the club premises, and ₹52 lakh had been deposited in a friend’s bank account in the past six months,” Ms. Katyayan said.
The Indian Police Service (IPS) officer said that one location that prominently popped in Mr. Xue and Ms. Petekhrinuo’s call logs was the village Gharbara along the Yamuna Expressway. The village does not have a metalled road. In the middle of nowhere, the police found the three-storey, 70-room club. High iron gates and CCTV cameras ringed the compound running to several acres. The police found the club stacked with Chinese cigarettes, liquor, lipsticks, high-heeled shoes, human-size teddy bears and golf clubs, among other items. A food menu in Mandarin was found. The rooms were electronically locked and CCTV footage had been deleted, police said. Around 15-20 employees of the club, including women, fled when the police reached there.
Ms. Katyayan said the police were looking for Mr. Xue’s Indian accomplice, a man named Ravi Natwarlal Thakkar from Gujarat, who had studied medicine in China. A raid of his Noida home had revealed he had a Chinese passport. The police also found his Indian passport and are in the process of issuing a look-out circular for him. “It is Ravi who has signed the rental agreement for the club that was running for more than two years. He is key to the case,” Ms. Katyayan said.
Police recovered details of nine companies registered under different Chinese names from Mr. Xue’s possession. The companies were registered for businesses in e-waste, mobile spare parts and earphone manufacturing. No company was found at the registered addresses when the police raided the locations in Ghaziabad, Panipat and Noida.
“Xue said he was merely an employee of the club and used to get a salary. He had used the identity documents of his Indian friend to strike business deals and make it look genuine,” Ms. Katyayan said.
Mr. Xue met Ms. Petekhrinuo at the Hunter Valley Club in Gurgaon more than a year ago. “She told us that the money in her account belonged to Xue. She was obviously in love and Xue took advantage of her Indian identity. He said he could not marry her as he was already twice divorced and marriage did not make sense any more,” the officer said.
Intelligence agencies are also analysing the case as it could be linked to a larger syndicate. Ms. Petekhrinuo told the police that Mr. Xue also dabbled in bitcoin trading.
“We are not ruling out espionage, a conspiracy to derail internal security, and causing import duty loss to India. The investigation could throw up other details. Maybe the club was being used to honey trap government officials, who knows?” another police officer said.
Police suspect that Mr. Thakker was tipped-off from someone in the department before he fled. An inquiry has been ordered against the local police and revenue officials on how such a large, illegally run club had escaped scrutiny.
At the club premises, now under police protection, the police also found a diary. “The diary, with notes scribbled in English, detailed how women employees had to look presentable, wear make-up all the time, and entertain the guests,” Ms. Katyayan said.
The officer said Mr. Xue knew Hindi but pretended not to know the language. “The interrogation was done in English. He said it was very easy to cross over from India to China and China to India — ‘just pay ₹20,000 and you are on either side of the border’. He said that when it came to corruption, both India and China are the same,” she said.