Sucheta Dalal :Dinesh Dalmia's latest exploits
Sucheta Dalal

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Dinesh Dalmia's latest exploits  

Jan 6, 2006




December 19,2005

IT'S bad enough when an American worker discovers that his job has been outsourced to some low-wage country in the Third World.
But when the outsourcing involves back-office data-processing jobs at banks and other financial institutions, a different and more menacing problem arises: What if lax security at these facilities opens the door to unstoppable identity theft and financial fraud from beyond our own borders?
An example of how that sort of thing can start occurred recently in the city of Gurgaon, India, where the subsidiary of a New Jersey data-processing company called Vanguard Info-Solutions was caught with confidential computer records stolen by two U.K. executives from the offices of a Vanguard rival.
In the U.S., Vanguard Info-Solutions could soon be drawn into even bigger problems. That's because of its close ties to a bankrupt outsourcing company called Allserve Systems Corp. and the man who has been pulling Allserve's strings from the start: an Indian businessman named Dinesh Dalmia.
Dalmia, 44, is wanted for questioning in India concerning his apparent involvement in a stock-rigging scheme that shook the Calcutta Stock Exchange at the turn of the decade. The Interpol Web site lists criminal conspiracy, forgery and fraud among the offenses about which the authorities want to question him.
The seeming ease with which Dalmia has managed to slide into the role of an outsourcing kingpin, behind corporate shells and front men in the U.S., should be a cautionary tale for everyone.
Leaving India one step ahead of the law, Dalmia set himself up in late 2003 in a palatial Fort Lee, N.J., estate overlooking the Hudson River. And from that perch he began knitting together a network of companies to cash in on the outsourcing boom that was erupting in India.
Vanguard Info-Solutions is part of that network. And so too is Allserve Systems Corp., as well as various other companies in the U.S. and Europe.
In the last year, Allserve raised more than $83 million in loans and credits from top U.S. companies like IBM, CIT Financial and Merrill Lynch. But the lenders never knew of Dalmia's presence in a thicket of offshore trusts that stretched from the Channel Islands off the U.K. coast to Tortola.
They didn't know, for example, of Dalmia's apparent ties to a company supplying leased computer equipment to Allserve.
Documents on file with New Jersey's Department of Revenue Services list the company, IGTL Solutions (USA) Inc., as sharing the same North Brunswick, N.J., office occupied by Allserve, and the documents also identify IGTL's president as Dalmia.
In late November, much of Dalmia's network suddenly collapsed in a heap, sending New Jersey-based Allserve into Newark federal court to file for bankruptcy.
In London, where Allserve's parent company collapsed as well, investigators from Britain's Serious Frauds Office got involved
That happened after court-appointed administrators began sifting through the contents of an official's desk and stumbled upon a stack of pre-printed letterhead stationery purporting to be from an IGTL office in Princeton.
But IGTL has no known office in Princeton. The stationery's address instead tied to a facility where business travelers can rent a room, a desk and a phone for brief periods while on the road.
One Allserve creditor in the U.S. says his company got suckered by the letterhead, and other lenders may have been, too.
Last week, federal prosecutors in Newark began issuing subpoenas to Allserve's creditors. Their goal: To get to the bottom of what happened here.
To date, about the only collateral that Allserve's creditors have been able to find consists of some crated computer equipment in a storage room in Trenton, N.J. The creditors say it's just a portion of what they've paid for, yet where the rest is no one knows.
The same fog seems to have enveloped an estimated $20 million lent by the creditors to a different but closely related group of Dalmia-linked companies with "B2B" in their names.
Take an outfit called B2B Solutions Inc., which is actually nothing more than the predecessor to Vanguard Info-Solutions Inc.
Documents from the New Jersey Department of Revenue Services show that B2B Solutions Inc. was created in 2000 by an Indian businessman from New Jersey named Dinesh Mittal.
Mittal said that in late autumn of 2003 he was approached by a group from Allserve that said it wanted to buy his company. A top insider at Allserve at the time said the talks were in fact handled directly by Dalmia.
By March 2004, Mittal had sold B2B Solutions to a Dalmia-linked offshore shell in the Channel Islands called Excalibur Investment Group. There waiting to be folded into B2B Solutions was a startup outsourcing business that Allserve's London operation had owned in Gurgaon, India.
The company, Vanguard Info-Solutions (India) Ltd., was apparently to merged with B2B Solutions. Yet it's hard to know for sure just what was afoot because the view of the proceedings is hampered by the Excalibur trust.
Be that as it may, in no time B2B Solutions' Web site blossomed with exciting news: The small-time New Jersey computer business had seemed to morph overnight into a multinational powerhouse with operations that stretched from Miami to the Punjab.
The grand vision was undoubtedly one reason why creditors proved willing to loan money to a company owned by people hiding out in the Channel Islands.
YET some creditors now say they felt the first tremors of un ease early this year when B2B Solutions abruptly changed its name to Vanguard Info-Solutions Inc. and launched a failed effort to merge with a Nasdaq Stock Market-listed computer company angling to get into the outsourcing game.
By the start of spring, the tremors had reached the Allserve creditors, too, as people the creditors had never met began delivering strange, dog-ate-my-homework excuses for having to miss upcoming loan payments. Oddest excuse of all: a sink hole had, in effect, swallowed up an Allserve facility in Chennai, India.
By autumn, the creditors had begun to wonder whether they themselves had stumbled into a sink hole, and they began hunting for answers from whoever seemed in charge.
But most had no idea who Mr. Big really was, and that alone enabled the crew in New Jersey to spin them in circles.
When a senior vice president for North Fork Bank, a major creditor to Allserve, showed up at the company's offices and asked to see the owner, no one would tell her who that person was or where to find him. All she was told was that her questions would all be answered by Nick.
Later, a lawyer for another creditor, the DB Zwirn investment group, had more luck. He learned that Nick's last name was Mittal. But the lawyer could rarely get Nick to respond and he wound up filing a complaining affidavit to that effect in court.
Only one creditor managed to break through to the real Nick Mittal (or so he thought). During a conference call of creditors last week, one person volunteered the news that he had actually met Nick Mittal personally and had even been to his house for dinner. Later, the lucky lender even recalled the address . . . a nice home indeed, he said, describing it as being in Fort Lee, N.J., on a street called Euclid Drive.
He was in fact describing the home of Dinesh Dalmia himself.
Next development: a bankruptcy hearing this week in Newark federal court, where an Allserve official is said to be making an appearance. Stay tuned. first carried this article on December 19,2005

-- Sucheta Dalal