From a police superintendent to the religious affairs minister, to an Awami League central leader – Swapan Mandal can impersonate anyone’s voice to scam unsuspecting people of their money
On March 27, a lecturer at the Mymensingh Mohila College received a phone call from the Superintendent of Police of the Bhaluka Industrial Police.
"My office is right next to your house. I am aware of your reputation as a good human being which is why I can trust you. I need you to arrange a private vehicle for me to travel from Rajshahi to Bhaluka. The Sreepur Highway Police OC will get in touch with you soon about that."
Since his residence was actually close to the Industrial Police office, the teacher had heard the SP speak before and 'knew' he was speaking to him. The SP had promised to return him the favour in future.
The teacher then received the number of the Sreepur OC through text. After a while, the teacher received a call from the OC.
"You were supposed to arrange a vehicle for Mamun Sir (the SP) but the vehicle has already been arranged. All you need to do is bKash Tk10,000 at this number (it was a Bkash agent's number).
The teacher sent the money without any delay. And then he called the OC back to check if he received the money. The number was however no longer reachable. And so he called the SP. The SP's number was also unreachable.
The teacher realized he had been duped but little did he know then that SP and OC he had been speaking to were the exact same person, although they had very different voices. What's more, both the voices sounded exactly like the real person's voice.
It took the teacher a while to admit to others how he had been fooled and finally filed a case in May.
The police had heard of similar stories earlier.
In March, someone impersonating the Awami League central committee Organising Secretary Abul Hossain had called a municipality councillor in Mymensingh's Bhaluka and asked for a Tk60,000 donation for the coronavirus pandemic relief fund.
The councillor had also complied because he knew Abul Hossain's voice fairly well.
The police started tracking the numbers from which the calls were made. They discovered that one of the numbers was receiving regular calls from patgudam locality in Mymensingh city. They decided to take the man from the area in custody.
This man turned out to an accomplice of the man who had been making the phone calls – Swapan Mandal. Police knew Swapan well. In 2017, Swapan had been arrested after he impersonated the voice of the former religious affairs minister Motiur Rahman and collected no less than Tk10 lakh in total from politicians and government officials of various shades.
Swapan was planning to flee to Dhaka from Mymensingh as the police had escalated the manhunt for the fake Abul Hossain. They set up a trap for him to get money from the detained man.
Finally, on May 11 midnight, police captured Swapan Mandal with two mobile phones on him.
During interrogation, police discovered for the first time the range of his talent.
"He replicated my voice right in front of me. Throughout my career in the police department I have never met such an intelligent fraud," said Shah Kamal Akanda, officer-in-charge of the detective branch of Mymensingh police.
From humble beginnings to always being in debt
Swapan is of medium height and fair complexion. He dresses well and in style, judging by pictures uploaded on his Facebook account, which is currently deactivated.
Nobody knows Swapan's actual age. The 2017 first information report said he was 35 at the time. The same age was mentioned in the 2020 first information report.
His permanent address also remained the same – Urahati village in Rajoi union under Bhaluka upazila.
His father Salahuddin Mandal was a farmer who had died two years ago. His two sisters, both married, live outside Bhaluka. His village home in Bhaluka is now a jittery cottage, where only his aged mother lives.
His neighbours do not know where the sisters live actually. They do not know where his elder brother lives either. A few years ago, the elder brother survived a motorbike accident.
The neighbours have no idea where Swapan stays mostly. His wife had divorced him several years ago.
Liakat Ali, a Rajoi union parishad member and Swapan's neighbour, told The Business Standard the two brothers had been notorious since their childhood.
"Swapan used to pickpocket bus passengers. He had survived mob lynching many times. His elder brother spoiled many local youths' life by supplying them with drugs."
Villagers, Liakat said, are afraid of the brothers, particularly Swapan who would implicate innocent people in false cases. Liakat's two sons are also among the victims of this frame-up job.
"Swapan's family lives in poverty. They inherited a piece of eight decimals of land. Some parts of their land property were sold in phases to meet family expenditures," Liakat said.
Swapan is forever in debt. He has no savings account and no immovable property. Yet, Swapan likes spending and showing off and is often seen treating the youth from his village at restaurants. He usually leaves behind the change as tips.
The police investigation found no record of him doing drugs or being involved in narcotics trade.
After his bail in the 2017 impersonation case, Swapan would tell people he would never cheat anyone again. He offered prayers five times a day. Yet, he never stopped deceiving people.
A well-planned pursuit
Before a scamming attempt, Swapan does his homework. He collects detailed information about the target, such as where the latter stays and hangs out, who he meets and what his weaknesses are.
Usually, he targets ambitious people or those looking to cut corners using nepotism and influence, according to his own words during interrogation.
He then practices the voice of the person he wants to impersonate.
Nobody knows how Swapan mastered the art of impersonation to defraud people. In 2014, he impersonated a leader of Chhatra League's Dhaka University unit to deceive an activist of the student organisation in Mymensingh. He promised the activist a top post in Chhatra League and tricked him into paying Tk11,000.
Sometimes, he would impersonate government secretaries to call political leaders offering to get things done for them in return for money. He would mimic the voices of personal assistants of parliament members to lobby for transfer of government officials. He would even identify himself as an intelligence officer to threaten unscrupulous businessmen.
Police are now gathering more about his criminal history.
Mymensingh correspondent Hossain Shahid assisted in preparing this report