Court orders release of 341 seized African passports to loan shark

The Central Crime Branch (CCB) police’s case of seizure of 341 passports of Africans from B Muniraju (45), who collected these documents as collateral for the money that he lent at exorbitant interest rates, has fallen flat. 

A city court on Tuesday ordered that all documents and gadgets seized by the police be handed back to Muniraju. He had filed an interim petition before the Karnataka High Court for the property to be released to him.

The high court told him to approach the lower court with a direction to the subordinate court to consider his plea. The Africans had also filed an application for release of documents, including passports, before the magistrate court. But the judge did not entertain the petition stating that there is an interim order from the high court to return the seized property to Muniraju. 

The seized property included 341 passports of African nations, 81 residential permits, 93 laptops and 155 mobile phones, all belonging to Africans living in east Bengaluru. Meanwhile, the Africans who had pledged their passports with Muniraju are confused as to why the raids happened in the first place. 

“If Muniraju collects the seized passports and gadgets and insists that we pay up money with exorbitant interest for returning them, we are going to challenge this order in the high court,” said Ronald James, a law student from CMR College, one of the students who has pledged his passport.

Among the 341 passports, 105 passport holders are still in Bengaluru. “Some of them, who were students, were even arrested by the police for not having their passports. More than half of the 341 passport holders, have obtained some or the other travel documents from their respective embassies and left India,” Wanikukurlopita Marino, another student said. 

“We are facing harassment even at our college as they are not allowing us to write exams as we do not have passports to show and renew our residential permits, which needs to be submitted to our college,” said Abel Silgi from Congo.

“We had filed a petition for the release of 105 passports, but the court has ordered the release of all 341 passports and other gadgets to Muniraju. According to law, claimed or unclaimed passports cannot be in the custody of any person. Ideally, the police should take these passports from Muniraju and send them to the respective embassies as the passports are the property of the government, foreign or domestic,” said Bosco Kaweesi, legal advisor, All Africans Students’ Association in Bengaluru.

Meanwhile, a senior police officer from CCB’s Women and Narcotics Wing told DH, “We are also surprised by the court’s order. We do not know why the court did not ask us to file objections before passing the order.”
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