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Lokayukta insiders use RTI queries to extort money

BENGALURU: Amid reports of corruption within the Lokayukta, it has been found that an extortion racket is run within the institution. To make money, insiders allegedly use RTI queries and complaints filed against government officers, a source informed press.

With help from persons within the anti-corruption watchdog, some private individuals source RTI applications filed to seek information against government officers. These officers are then threatened with Lokayukta cases if they don't pay up.

Terming it one of the most "ugliest" phases within the Lokayukta, a source said the racket is said to have been in operation for at least one year. The "ring leaders" randomly select government officers to extort money.

Here's how it works: Calls are made to a government official suggesting he would be in the dock if a Lokayukta case is registered against him. Next comes the extortion demand - either face-to-face or over the phone. The officer is asked to pay a percentage of the cost of the project which he is executing. For example, if an RTI application seeks information on a Rs 20-lakh project taken up by the officer, then the "cut" demanded would be a percentage of Rs 20 lakh.

The money demanded varies from case to case, from officer to officer.

The source said the extortion ring has "hired" people to apply for RTI information or file cases against a high- ranking officers, and then use the information to seek bribes.

Lokayukta police, who traced the phone numbers of the ring leaders, found they were registered under fake IDs. In one case, a number used for extortion pointed to an address in Kalaburagi. The high-ranking Lokayukta officer who allegedly helped individuals to source and use these RTI applications was summoned by his higher-ups and questioned about his alleged involvement.

Lokayukta police were in hot pursuit of Krishna Rao, the ring leader of the racket, when the case was transferred to the Central Crime Branch (CCB).

It is said the police wing is close to confirming the identity of Ashwin Rao, who is reported to be the son of Lokayukta Justice Y Bhaskar Rao.

No written complaint filed

According to Lokayukta police, there has been no written complaint against any person within the Lokayukta over bribery charges. Sources say that even if the CCB investigates the matter, then it will have to proceed independently to prove the charges.

No CCTV, probe fumbles

The Lokayukta office, which is reported to have witnessed a blatant demand for a bribe from a high-ranking officer, does not have CCTV. Top Lokayukta police officers say this has left investigators in the dark over the officer who demanded money.

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