One of Odisha’s richest businessmen, who was named as the alleged mastermind behind the murder of a rival shipping company executive, and his associate were nabbed from a Bangkok hotel on Sunday, after dodging the police for two months.
Mahimananda Mishra, 63, managing director of Orissa Stevedores Limited that controls over 90% of the cargo handling operations at Paradip port in Jagatsinghpur district, was held along with Basant Bal by the Thailand police from a hotel where he stayed as a tourist for some time.
Shortly after he and Bal were detained, Bangkok immigration commissioner Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn told Bangkok Post newspaper that the investigators traced the two suspects to various tourist spots in Chon Buri and finally learned they were staying at a hotel in the Pratunam area in the Thai capital.
Mishra was on the run since October 26 after Mahendra Swain, an executive of Hyderabad-based Seaways Shipping and Logistics Limited, was killed in Paradip town. Swain was shot dead at point blank range by hired killers in Paradip while he was on his way to the office.
Swain’s brother Rajkishore named Mishra and 3 other executives of Mishra’s firm in his FIR as having hatched the murder conspiracy.
Though police last month arrested 7 men including Congress leader Bapi Sarkhel and main killer Rakesh Choubey, Mishra continued to elude police dragnet till one of his key associates was arrested.
“We traced the whereabouts of Mishra and Bal after we arrested Mishra’s confidante Sushant Sethy. We found that Mishra fled Odisha and stayed in various posh hotels of New Delhi, Gurgaon, Chandigarh, Amritsar, and Indo-Nepal border on his way to Bangkok. He made all payments by using the credit cards of Sethy. He went to Nepal by road from where he fled to Thailand by boarding a Thai Airways plane,” Odisha director general of police KB Singh.
A four-member team of Odisha police has left for Bangkok from where he will be brought to Odisha on Monday.
“Once he reaches Odisha shores, he will be formally arrested,” Singh said.
The murder case was a result of a trouble that was brewing since April last year when Naveen Jindal-owned Jindal Steel and Power Ltd quashed its stevedoring agreement with Mishra and awarded a consortium of 3 companies, including a Hyderabad-based cargo company Seaways Shipping and Logistic Ltd.
The 3 companies formed a separate Utkal Stevedores Association that sought to challenge the hegemony of Mishra’s Paradip Port Stevedores’ Association, which controlled all cargo operations in the port for more than 3 decades. Using the clout of port workers union and sometimes by brute force, Mishra decided who would get a particular contract.
“If anyone dared to defy him he would not have be able to work. His bunch of goons kept everyone terrorised,” a shipping company executive, who did not wish to be named, said.
In the last fiscal, Paradip port became India’s second biggest port handling a record 76 million tonnes of cargo, next only to Kandla port in Gujarat that handled 1 billion tonnes. The port authorities have set off a major expansion plan lining up Rs 20,000 crore that would make it India’s biggest port.
Police said Mishra’s stevedoring association was a cartel that effectively decided the rates of cargo handling operations at Paradip port and arm twisted even major corporates like Tata and Jindal into paying much more than the prevailing rates.
“In response to a tender of import of limestone by SAIL, Seaways Shipping had quoted a price of Rs 103 per tonne while Mishra’s firm quoted Rs 143 for the same. Mishra and his associates tried hard to paralyse the port but due to adequate arrangements made by district and police authorities they could not succeed,” DGP Singh said.
“Frustrated by this, Mishra and his associates allegedly decided to eliminate Swain and pass a message that they can do anything to safeguard the monopoly of OSL,” he added.
Mishra, a postgraduate from Utkal University, started his stevedoring company in 1978 and rode to success with timely help from state Congress politicians. From stevedoring, Mishra ventured into hospitality, education, mining, automobile dealership, chartered aviation and construction among others.
His business empire is estimated to be worth at least Rs 12,000 crore. Shipping company officials say stevedoring is no longer as lucrative and Mishra used to make money from the theft of commodities like coal, coke, fly ash, gypsum, and limestone during dispatch.
“We would try to keep him behind bars as long as possible and submit a chargesheet quickly. We would leave no stone unturned to ensure that he spends the rest of his life in jail,” a senior police official said.