Z-plus security, 5-star stays: Man poses as PMO official in J&K, held

VIDEOS AND photographs from the snowy slopes of Gulmarg and Uri’s Aman Setu; high-profile meetings with Jammu and Kashmir bureaucrats; accommodation in 5-star hotels and Z-plus security — Kiran J Patel pulled off this and much more while posing as an Additional Director (Planning and Strategy) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during his two visits to the Union Territory before he finally ran out of luck.

On Friday, the J&K Police acknowledged Patel’s arrest two weeks ago in Srinagar. He was picked up from Hotel Lalit Grand Palace, a 5-star property in Srinagar, on March 2, following a tip-off from an informer in New Delhi. His police remand ended on Friday.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against the Ahmedabad resident only after the PMO enquired about the action taken against him.

Police said Patel has three cases registered against him in Gujarat on charges of criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy.

Sources in Ahmedabad said Patel studied computer engineering in London.

At the time he was picked up from the Srinagar hotel, Patel was accompanied by three persons whom he had earlier introduced as officials of the PMO. Police sources identified the three as Amit Pandiya and Jay Sitapore from Gujarat, and Trilok Singh from Rajasthan, and said that they have, however, left the Valley. The sources added that other “relevant persons have been examined in the case”.

During his two previous visits to the Valley, police said, Patel was provided 5-star accommodation and detailed security cover allegedly on the recommendation of a Deputy Commissioner posted in south Kashmir. Identifying Patel as a PMO official, the Deputy Commissioner had allegedly personally called the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Security Wing, and recommended security for him. As part of Patel’s security detail, they said, he was given a bulletproof sports utility vehicle and two Seema Sashastra Bal (SSB) escort cars — in contravention of rules and procedures since such requests usually come in writing from the PMO.

Patel had posted numerous pictures and videos on his Twitter handle from his earlier visits to the state. On February 17, he posted a photograph taken at Aman Setu, the last point at the Line of Control, in Uri. On February 18 and 20, he posted pictures of the Gulmarg Ski Resort. On February 22, he posted photographs of devotees queued up at Srinagar’s Shankaracharya temple. He tweeted a video showing his security detail on February 23. Another video showed him at the Aharbal waterfall in south Kashmir’s Kulgam.

Patel also held several meetings with J&K bureaucrats, selling them dreams of boosting apple production, and held seminars on giving a fillip to the horticulture industry. During his visit to Gulmarg, Patel had claimed that the government had tasked him with improving hotel facilities in the area, officials said. At the Doodhpathri health resort, Patel had allegedly rebuked some officials and told them that he would get them transferred. He also took credit for the recent reshuffle in the bureaucracy.

Police sources said while some officials got suspicious of Patel due to his activities, they could not muster the courage to complain against an “Additional Director from PMO”. His cover was blown when an informer from Delhi tipped the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the J&K Police about Patel’s real identity.

A police statement said, “On 2nd of March 2023, CID wing of J&K Police gave information to Police about the arrival of an impersonator in Kashmir. SSP Srinagar immediately sent a team led by SP East to Lalit hotel. The particulars of this person were found as Kiran Bhai Patel, son of Juddesh Bhai Patel, resident of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, who was impersonating himself as Additional Director (Strategy and campaigns), PMO, New Delhi. As his replies were found suspicious, he was taken to the Police Station, Nishat, wherein he admitted his crime. Ten fake visiting cards and two mobiles were seized from him.”

A source in J&K Police said a CID personnel got suspicious about Patel when he was waxing eloquent about the nitty gritty of security operations at a militant incident site after learning the police personnel was from J&K CID. Unlike many other police jurisdictions, the J&K CID handles intelligence, and Patel didn’t know the finer distinction. The personnel put a false location to the PMO and asked Patel if he (the J&K CID personnel) could come to meet him there, to which Patel answered in the affirmative. The CID personnel then reported it to his seniors.

A case under Sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating and dishonesty), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) was registered against Patel.

Speaking to the media, Patel’s lawyer Rayan Ahmad said his client and his family have termed the allegations against him as “baseless and false” and called his arrest a “reflection of some political rivalry in Gujarat”.

The lawyer said, “The police allege that Patel impersonated a senior official. By that they mean he trespassed and went to some vulnerable places where the common man cannot go. But he went as per protocol. How did my client manage to do that? Protocol requires proper documentation. According to my conversation with him and the family, they said that they had visited Kashmir once and there was proper documentation from the government that Patel was a government official.”

Contradicting police claims of three persons accompanying Patel, the counsel said his client was accompanied by just two more persons. “I came to know from my client that he was accompanied by two more persons. The police recorded the statement of one of them under Section 164 before the court and another person was set free by the police station concerned,” the lawyer alleged.

On his Twitter profile, Patel identifies himself as “Dr Kiran J Patel” with a doctorate from the “Virginia Commonwealth University and an MBA from IIM-T [Indian Institute of Management Trichy]”. He also identifies himself as a thinker, strategist, analyst and campaign manager. In a tweet dated February 11, Patel posted a letter announcing that he had been “Appointed as the Academic Director at Commonwealth Vocational University of TONGO, Australia….!!!!”.

Patel not only managed to trick police and civil officials, but also several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the Valley.

Manzoor Bhat, the BJP media in-charge for Kashmir who is among those photographed with Patel, said the accused had introduced himself as a PMO official.

Bhat said, “Last October, I got a call from an unknown number. The caller said he was from the PMO and that PM saheb was keen to hold elections in J&K. I got another call from him after 20 days. He said he was in Srinagar and wanted to meet me. I went to the Lalit Palace Hotel. Many people were waiting to meet him there. When I saw his security cover, I was impressed. He showed me his ID card and introduced me to his family as well. Since he talked about elections, I told him to write to BJP’s J&K president Ravinder Raina.”

Bhat claimed that he got a little suspicious when Patel told him not to disclose his identity to anyone. “Patel said he was undercover and that his life would be in danger if his identity was disclosed. That was the only time I met him,” he said.

The BJP leader said he does not remember who took his picture with Patel. “I am a public figure. People talk to me and take pictures with me. That doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

In Ahmedabad, a woman who introduced herself to The Indian Express as “Patel’s wife Malini”, refused to talk about the case on Friday.

The family lives on rent in Maninagar’s Ghodasar area in Ahmedabad city, in a society of 127 bungalows. Both houses on either side of their bungalow are locked as the owners live outside Gujarat.

According to a neighbour, the family shifted to the society around 3-4 years back. “I didn’t know Patel personally. I only knew him by face. He has a home here, but generally stays away. It was only when his pictures were flashed in the media that I learnt his full name,” he said.