A chilling twist on film piracy

Report: Operation led by India's most wanted criminal funds terrorism

Its effects on the boxoffice might be the least of the concerns attached to India's No. 1 movie pirating operation.

There is "substantial evidence" that D-Company — the organized crime syndicate-turned-terrorist group controlled by India's most wanted criminal, Dawood Ibrahim — "has used the proceeds from film piracy to fund its terrorist organization and activities in India," according to a Rand Corp. report shared Monday by the MPA.

In addition to being on Interpol's most wanted list, Ibrahim was named a "global terrorist" by the U.S. government in 2003 because of his close links to Osama bin Laden.

Titled "Film Piracy, Organized Crime and Terrorism," the report illustrates how Ibrahim — who has operated from a base in Dubai for more than two decades and is rumored to be hiding in Pakistan — has been able to "vertically integrate D-Company throughout the Indian film and pirate industry, forging a clear pirate monopoly over competitors and launching a racket to control the master copies of pirated Bollywood and Hollywood films."

A major breakthrough came last year with the arrest of Jatender Kumar, aka Rinku, who ran a Pan-Indian syndicate on behalf of D-Company. The operation, based in a small town near New Delhi, created high-quality masters that were sent to duplication units nationwide.

Having established itself in extortion, smuggling and contract killings in the 1980s, D-Company "transformed itself into a terrorist organization" in 1993 by orchestrating the "Black Friday" Mumbai serial bombings that killed more than 250 people. The report adds that D-Company then developed ties to al-Qaida and Kashmiri terrorist group Lakshar-e-Tayiba "while its leaders were exiled in Pakistan."

"This report confirms an important fact that was known to the Indian film industry and local authorities. With its own investigative inputs, the Rand Corp. lends serious credibility to the fight against piracy and its links with terrorism and organized crime," Michael Ellis, MPA president and managing director of the Asia Pacific region, said Monday.

Aftab Khan, founder of the Mumbai Police's anti-terrorist squad, said D-Company's activities "seem to have been scaled down in the area of extortion, since Indian producers now have access to corporate funds, with players such as UTV and Reliance Big Entertainment replacing private financiers, some of whom had links with organized crime."

But tracking D-Company's piracy duplication activities "is still a challenge," Khan said, "though we are always monitoring leads."

The MPA estimates that piracy in India affects the Indian film industry more than its U.S. counterpart, with only 20% of pirated goods infringing copyrights of foreign film titles. According to government estimates, the Indian entertainment industry loses as much as 1.7 billion rupees ($35 million) annually to all forms of piracy.

While it is generally acknowledged that Indian copyright and anti-piracy laws have enough provisions to empower authorities, "it is the actual implementation of these laws which is usually a challenge," said Greg Frazier, MPA's Washington-based executive vp and chief policy officer, who added that "increased awareness of the links between organized crime and piracy should galvanize efforts at the ground level."

Born the son of a Mumbai police constable, Ibrahim began as a petty criminal "enjoying an unusual level of protection from his father's connections," the report said. It went on to say that after shifting to Dubai — which has no extradition treaty with India — Ibrahim and D-Company expanded their extortion activities in the film business, spanning production, distribution and manufacturing, unleashing a flood of illicit VHS and VCD products produced by a front company in Karachi, Pakistan. (partialdiff)