|The doors are locked and sealed. Three policemen guard the premises day and night. TV news channels have been streaming detailed reports of this multi-crore fraud everyday at primetime. The mastermind is on the run. Still, there is no let up in desperate patients queuing up at conman Munir Khan's Health Reactive clinic at Versova in Andheri.
Even today, at least 200 unsuspecting patients hailing from places as far as a small town in Bihar to Saudi Arabia, come to the clinic everyday enquiring about Khan and his magic potion, Body Revival - the one medicine that Khan claims can cure all diseases, ranging from simple itching to heart diseases and cancer.
We had to sell our jewellery to buy the expensive medicine. However, after having the medicine my conditioned not only worsened but I also developed skin disease - Anju Menda, victim
If ever there was an international contest on gullibility, Indians would beat the world hands down. Nothing else could explain the exponential rise of a middle-class economics graduate from Kota, Rajasthan, who until a few years ago was allegedly working as a compounder for an Ayurvedic doctor in Jogeshwari, solely on the shoulders of a 100 ml solution that primarily had nothing but honey and sugar syrup.
Today, Khan is a multi-millionaire, with several properties in Mumbai and Rajasthan. He roams around in cars no less than Mercedes Benz and has three of them apart from other cars. Only last year, Khan declared an income that computed his tax to Rs 125 crore. He obviously didn't pay, following which there was an IT raid at his clinic and home. Police have even found evidence that Khan has bought hundreds of acres of land in Himachal Pradesh to set up an Ayurvedic institute. Police suspect his empire could be worth at least Rs 1,000 crore.
There are three bags full of documents pertaining to Khan's wealth and practice that police are still scrutinising. Not surprising for a man who clocked a sale of about 500 bottles of Body Revival a day at the rate of Rs 15,000 per vial.
Pedestrian knowledge - Munir Khan
But sample this self-appointed scientist's knowledge of cancer, a disease he claims to have devoted 25 years of his life researching and promises to cure even in last stages: In an interview to a website dedicated to cancer, Khan describes the disease in these words, “Metallic and fibers deposit in the body these are called cancer... This metallic deposit becomes a mass.
This toxin can be dissolved and flush out through urine...” A cautionary note for cancer patients from the 'scientist': “Cooking, eating, etc. in aluminum or in any metallic vessel should be avoided.”
His own website, www.cancercurable.com, that has now shut and redirects to www.healthreactive.com, concocted a ******-and-bull story in butler English: “The fact that treat for Blood Cancer is possible is nothing less than a miracle.
Body Revival actually dissolves the cancer cells and flushes them out of the body through urine, stools & vomit. ...starts showing improvement in the suffering patients from the 1st dose.”
Not many would agree to that as several of Khan’s patients have suffered more after taking his medicine - that Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently declared as merely a solution of honey and some herbs, one of which is banned by the forest department. Says Anju Menda, a 55-year-old patient of Khan from Chembur, “I was suffering from arthritis and had taken several medications but none provided relief.
A year ago I heard about Munir Khan and learnt through TV ads that his Body Revival could cure any disease. It was, however, very expensive and we had to sell our jewellery to buy three vials of the medicine. However, after having the medicine my condition not only worsened but I even developed a skin disease.”
Another victim of Khan, Ratnagiri-based Rafiqua Parkar, whose cousin was suffering from cancer, said, “I learnt about Khan from my brother in Kuwait. He said that Khan could cure any disease. I went to his clinic about six months ago and bought three vials of the medicine. But even before my cousin could finish the third bottle, he died.”
Smart marketing, official negligence
Parkar and Menda are not alone. There are at least 60 such complaints lodged with the Versova police. Still, Khan, who could practically be called a glorified Bengali Baba, managed to erect a medical empire. A smart and focused marketing strategy and a trail of negligence on the part of authorities helped.
Even after complaints from across the country and abroad pouring in for the past two years, authorities have little idea of who Munir Khan actually is. On prodding, police give an unconfirmed story: “There are reports that Khan came to Mumbai some 10 years ago to try his luck in the film line. He even dabbled in a couple of Rajasthani films. But things did not work out. Later, while being treated by an Ayurvedic doctor, he hit upon the idea that if handled properly it can be a profitable business. But these things can be confirmed only after Munir is interrogated,” said an officer with the Versova police station.
The only documentary evidence of Khan, who by his own admission is a graduate in economics, entering the line of medicine, is with the Department of Ayurveda under the Ministry of Health, Rajasthan. Four years ago, Khan had, without much fuss, procured a license for his dubious potion, Body Revival, from the department. He also obtained a certificate in naturopathy from an obscure institute named Academy of Naturopathy and Alternative Medicine in 2000. Maharashtra FDA officials say this certificate is not valid.
Ads through cable tv and celebrities
After this, Khan stationed himself in the posh Woodstock Villa in Versova and started running his clinic from home. Khan knew that merely selling Ayurvedic medicine from a small clinic would never get him the moolah. He thus tied up with cable TV networks and put up his ads, but kept away from mainstream media.
Additional CP (Western Region) under whose supervision the case is being probed
As the business picked up, he started hobnobbing with local politicians and outfits in different states.
“It were these people who got him access to bigger politicians like former Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Tamil Nadu governor Surjit Singh Barnala, former minister of state (home) Sriprakash Jaiswal and several other prominent personalities including the Sheikh of Sharjah.
But we suspect whether he has any close relations with these people, as it is not too difficult to get your picture clicked with ministers at cultural functions,” says Additional CP (Western Region) Amitabh Gupta.
However, the real fillip to Khan’s dubious business was given by Tabassum, arguably one of TV’s most influential personalities.
Khan roped in Tabassum to do his interview for a health channel, Care TV, about two and half years ago.
The half-an-hour show, which was aired on several channels like Star News and Zee News, showed Tabassum introducing and interviewing Khan in her quintessential style as a god-sent scientist whose medicine could cure all diseases.
The show also made absurd claims of Khan being the messiah who Nostradamus had predicted would come on earth in 21st Century and rid the world of all miseries and diseases. In fact, a few of his print ads, published in national magazines, announced: “The forecasted messiah, scientist Munir Khan will diffuse nuclear power in America.”
The strategy worked and in a matter of months Khan had thousands of patients from all over the country flocking his clinic. Says inspector Kalpana Gadekar of Versova police station, “People used to sleep through the night in front of his Woodstock Villa home so that as soon as the messiah woke up, they would get the medicine. And people came from as far as Dubai and Kuwait.”
Says S Mohite, a victim of Khan who came from Karad to Mumbai to lodge a complaint against Khan, “My wife has several ailments and has been in pain for quite sometime. We saw Khan’s interview on a News channel being conducted by Tabassum. We said if such people are involved, it must be true. More than Khan, it is the News Channels and Tabassum who are to blame for this.”
Adds a senior officer, “Khan purposely chose Hindi news channels and primarily targeted rural India as city-bred educated people would ask questions.”
It was her interview with Khan that gave him legitimacy and catapulted his business to dizzying heights
Defending herself, Tabassum says, “I was not aware of this fraud when I did the interview. Khan personally came to me and said that he was giving the medicine to poor for free and so I did the show without taking any money.” When asked why she did not question the veracity of a medicine that claims to cure all ailments, she said, “He claimed that he had been bestowed a supernatural power by a saint. And he swore on Allah about this. How could I doubt that?”
Another strategy that Khan adopted was high level of secrecy and stonewalling of questions. According to victims, very few people were allowed to meet Khan. And those who did get a chance were not allowed to discuss the disease. “All he said was: ‘Go to my panel doctor. Pay Rs 15,000 and she will give you the medicine,’” said Parkar.
Authorities looked the other way
However, it was not Tabassum and marketing alone that won it for Khan. Without authorities having looked the other way, Khan couldn’t have built his empire.
The Department of Ayurveda, Rajasthan, that granted Khan the license for his medicine has now cancelled it and sent Khan a show-cause notice, but it has strange explanations for its conduct.
Says Dr Vinita Srivastava, the department’s officiating director, “After receiving a letter from Mahrashtra FDA that Body Revival was a fake, we conducted our own tests and found the solution suspect. We have sent a show-cause notice to Munir. After he deposes before us, official cancellation of his license will come into effect.”
When asked how the department gave the license in the first place, Srivastava said it happened in the tenure of the previous director, Dr KT Vyas, and she had no idea of it. Vyas on his part blamed loopholes in the system for the lapse. He told Mumbai Mirror, “Anyone declaring the contents of his medicine in an affidavit and passing our scrutiny committee can get a license. There are no provisions for a lab test before granting licenses. The system of affidavit too was introduced by me.”
FDA reports ignored by police
At least four adverse reports by Maharashtra FDA on Khan’s medicine were sent to the Versova police, but no action was taken until recently. The first report, prepared after one Umarbhai Shekhani from Gadchiroli lodged a complaint with the FDA, was sent to the police on January 23, 2008 and an FIR was lodged. The report mentioned that Khan’s medicine was suspect and he had no valid degree to practice. No action was taken.
Later senior officers of the FDA wrote two more letters to police reminding them of the FIR. On October 9, 2009, another FIR was lodged by FDA against Khan, but Versova police did not budge.
Says Joint Commissioner (Maharashtra FDA) Suhas Chaudhary, “Khan’s solution has no medicinal value. Even the contents mentioned on the label are not present in right proportion. We informed the police four times about it. It was unto the police to take action. We also wrote to the TV channels to remove the ads.”
Police demanded Rs 8 crore
Ironically, the probe started after Khan approached a senior police officer in western region with allegations of corruption against officers of the Versova police station. “He claimed that Versova police had demanded Rs 8 crore to hush up FDA matters against him. He even gave a CD that contained his telephonic conversation with an officer at Versova police station. Its veracity could not be established, but it alerted us. I summoned the Munir Khan file and saw that the local police had been purposely ignoring the matter,” he said.
Following this, the officer put pressure on the police station to act against Khan, but soon realised that some officers were conniving. Thus the officer changed the investigation team and gave the probe to woman police inspector Kalpana Gadekar, who is fresh out of Anti-corruption Bureau.
The woman police inspector who is now heading investigations after other officers were found conniving
“I hope the probe will now move in the right direction. Had we been a few months late, he would have gone scot free,” he said.
A close friend, who police suspect Khan was using to launch his son in Bollywood
The reason behind this is that Khan was slowly improving his ties with Maharashtra politicians and people in the filmdom. “A few politicians called me up defending Khan, but after hearing the seriousness of his malpractice, they backed out,” said the officer.
With Aditya Panscholi being his closest friend in Mumbai, police suspect Khan was also trying to enter Bollywood to launch his son Munish, who is an actor.
Munir may still flourish
Despite the crackdown, however, police do not believe Khan’s story is over. Said a senior officer, “It’s primarily a cheating case. He has lots of money and will be out soon. He will shift his base and start afresh under another name and a new medicine. As long as people are ready to buy his lie, he will flourish.”
Perhaps, it is this safety-net and the guaranteed profits that have brought so many bizarre turns in the Munir Khan story.
The last one being from an Ayurvedic Doctor from Jogeshwari, Rehmatullah Pasla, who is fighting a case in the court and has also lodged a complaint with the Oshiwara police station that Body Revival is actually his potion that Khan stole while working in his clinic as a compounder a few years ago.
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