Many claims in the statement of the ‘hacker’ could not be corroborated, says CCB
Claims made by ‘hacker’ Sri Krishna of his exploits, including stealing of over 5,000 bitcoins that have not been recovered so far, have triggered intense speculations of a cover-up. But the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of Bengaluru city police has charged him for only hacking 10 poker websites and three bitcoin exchanges. The chargesheets filed are silent on many claims made by him. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has chargesheeted him for hacking into the government e-procurement portal and stealing ₹11 crore.
Sri Krishna, in his statement recorded in police custody, claimed to have been part of the 2016 Bitfinex hack from which he made 2,000 bitcoins. He also said he stole another 3,000 bitcoins from BTC-e.com exchange, making a profit of $3 million to $3.5 million.
But they are not in the chargesheet. “The voluntary statement of an accused in police custody has no evidentiary value, unless corroborated with evidence. We recovered a Macbook from Sri Krishna; he doesn’t even use a phone. He had used the equipment of his co-accused as well, all of which were submitted for cyber forensic analysis. We have charged him only for crimes that we found digital footprints of,” a senior police official said.
An estimate by the police peg the profits Sri Krishna claimed to have made through hacking as of the date of the crime at ₹72.9 crore, of which he has now been charged only for crimes worth ₹13.7 crore (₹2.7 crore by the CCB and ₹11 crore by the CID). “Despite our best efforts, we are unable to ascertain the facts of several of the claims he has made. They may either be tall claims with no factual basis, or he may have carried out these crimes using other devices that we have not been able to lay our hands on,” a senior official said.
Sources in the Enforcement Directorate (ED), who are also probing the case and have questioned Sri Krishna, said they have also not been able to recover either evidence of more crimes he claims to have committed or any bitcoins from him.
However, questions have now been raised on the investigation into the case and the inability of the probe to detect crimes that the accused himself has claimed to have been involved in. Congress MLA and former Information Technology Minister Priyank Kharge alleged the investigation seemed more aimed at “covering up the truth than uncovering it”.
The case against Sri Krishna pertaining to cybercrimes was taken up suo motu based on the revelations of the investigation into a narcotics case in which the hacker was arrested on November 18, 2020. The FIR was registered on November 27, 2020, based on a complaint by CCB Anti Narcotics Wing inspector Shridhara K. Pujara, in which he mentioned that it has been found that Sri Krishna had hacked several poker websites and a bitcoin exchange.
CCB wrote to Group Cyber ID Technology Pvt. Ltd., a private cyber detection centre, on December 11, 2020, seeking a forensic analysis of the mirror images of all electronic devices recovered from the accused. The letter, a copy of which is available with The Hindu, asks the firm “whether pokerdangal, spartanpoker, pokersaint, unocoin, GGpoker, and e-governance websites have been hacked”. These are the sites mentioned in the FIR. In the letter, the CCB also asked whether apart from those sites, “any other websites were hacked”, but doesn’t explicitly mention claims by the hacker that he stole over 5,000 bitcoins. Based on the forensic report, Sri Krishna was charged for hacking 10 poker websites and three bitcoin exchanges.
“On what basis was the private firm selected? Why weren’t government forensic labs involved?,” questioned Mr. Kharge.
Senior police officials said that Group Cyber ID Technology has been working with law enforcement agencies and has been roped in by even Central agencies such as ED, CBI, NCB, and NIA and by the city police in several key cases earlier as well. The chargesheet is also silent on Sri Krishna’s claims of Facebook and Skype chats to buy drugs, trades in cryptocurrency and private keys to the currency in his cloud account.
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