Prameela Devi is a courageous woman from India who in the past 3 years fought hard for justice. She claims that Sanal Edamaruku, an Indian citizen who heads the Helsinki-based organization Rationalist International, scammed her of 1,525,000 rupees (a little over 18,000 euros) which she paid in exchange for promises of residence permits, study and work places in Finland.
She says that in order to get that amount, which is a small fortune in India, Sanal Edamaruku recommended her to take bank loans. The outcome is very sad: she never traveled to Finland and now she lives overwhelmed by the interests of the loans, since her small salary as a government official is not enough to pay them back.
After years of legal battle, in 2018 an Indian court issued an arrest warrant against Sanal Edamaruku. And in March 2020, Interpol also issued a red notice for the purpose of his detention and extradition, which has not yet been executed.
From her modest home in Alappuzha (in the Indian southern state of Kerala), Prameela attends an online interview with this reporter. During the conversation she will cry, especially when remembering how the lives of her two children have also been ruined. But she will continue to answer the questions with the dignity of knowing she is right, over and above any feeling of fear or shame.
For the Finnish authorities she has one request: arrest and extradite Sanal, so that he has to answer to a court for his actions. "I need justice, this was human trafficking," she cries.
QUESTION: How did you meet Sanal Edamaruku?
ANSWER: He is a prominent rationalist and I am a rationalist too. I met him three times in meetings of rationalists in my home city in India. I went there with a friend and he invited us to join the organization. At that time he was living in Delhi.
Q: What happened next?
A: He had some legal problems in India in 2012 due to some blasphemy cases and he left the country and went to Finland. Later he contacted me via Facebook. At that time I was dreaming of an opportunity to study in Europe, more specifically in Sweden.
Sanal Edamaruku with former President Tarja Halonen. Photo: Facebook/S. Edamaruku.
Q: Why did you want to live in Europe?
A: I come from a very poor family and I wanted a better life for my children. I discussed my dream with Sanal and he told me Finland was the best place to achieve a better life. He said he could help me and I trusted him.
Q: What did he exactly promise to you?
A: He said he would arrange an education visa to me with the help of a Russian agency that operates in Helsinki.
Q: What did you want to study in Finland?
A: I had no preferences, but he offered me to choose any degree. I gave him the right to choose for me...
Q: Do you have any education?
A: I have a bachelor degree in Chemistry.
Q: What did he ask you in return?
A: First, he asked me to take two TOEFL (English language) tests and send him my scores. He also asked me money for pre-admission and as I had nothing in my accounts, he advised me to take bank loans. I took 5 loans and sent the money to his account in the National Bank of India, in Delhi.
He offered me a residence permit and a place to study any degree in Finland
18,000 euros paid
Q: How much money did you send?
A: 1,575,000 rupees (more than 18,000 euros). I sent it all to his account in more than 10 installments between 2015 and 2016.
Q: What happened after that?
A: He advised me to come to Finland as a student and he said that later I could also bring my two children and my husband. He offered me a residence permit once I arrive in Finland.
Q: Did you get the study place?
A: After I sent him the results of the TOEFL tests he said they were not good enough. He told me I would never get an education visa, so he suggested getting an employment permit instead. He said as a student it would be hard for me to earn money for living with my family, so this would be a better solution. Then he offered me a job with a good salary in his own firm.
Q: What kind of job?
A: He offered me a manager position in the International Rationalist organization in Helsinki, in which he is the CEO. He said the salary would be 1,200 euros per month.
Q: Did he say this was a good salary?
A: Yes, he told me it was a good salary and it would allow me to apply for a residence permit. I had no idea about how much that amount was in Europe. Only later a friend told me that it was not enough to manage with my family.
Q: What did you do then?
A: Without knowing he was cheating, I tried to log into the Finnish online residence permit site and submit an application. But the system demanded a lot of specific information about the employer and his office, including tax data. Sanal refused to give me any data about the company. I understood I was being cheated.
Q: Did he make you any other offers?
A: Once he also proposed me that he would bring me to Finland and he would legally pay me a salary through a bank. But as he was having no profit with his organization, I would have to return the full amount to him in cash and in hand. Then I knew that all was about human trafficking.
Q: But if he wanted your salary back, how would you live in Finland?
A: He said it was my duty to find another job or study courses in Finland. He said there were many jobs and he would give me free time for that.
Q: Did you still send him more money?
A: No, I learned all these facts just after sending all the money to him.
Q: Did you ask for help?
A: When I noticed this was just a human trafficking case I contacted the Finland Malayalee Association (FIMA) and I explained them my story. They contacted Sanal Edamaruku and his reply was that this was a private matter between me and him, none of their business. The association told me they could not do anything since all had happened in India and he had done nothing wrong in Finland.
Q: What did you do then?
A: I was completely destroyed here. I contacted another Malayalee association in Finland (WMF) and I got a similar answer, but in this case they also recommended me to report the case to the police in India and I got a lot of help from them. In 2017, I filed a complaint against Sanal.
Reported to the police
Q: How did the Indian authorities handle the case?
A: The Alappuzha Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Kerala issued an arrest warrant against Sanal. But the authorities of my state told me the case was long pending because the person accused was abroad and I needed the support of the Federal Government of India for the extradition. Then I contacted the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of External Affairs.
Q: Did they help you?
A: In 2018 I visited the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi. They advised me how to take all the necessary steps and procedures for extradition. They sent me by email the procedures and the application forms I had to fill and I did it. Later there was an investigation and the case was sent to the Crime Branch of India (CBI) and Interpol.
Q: During all this time, did you contact any Finnish authorities?
A: In 2016 and 2017 I contacted the Finnish Embassy in India and also the Indian mission in Finland. I sent them many emails. They both told me this was a private matter and they could do nothing for me.
Sanal proposed me that he would legally pay me a salary through a bank but I would have to return the full amount to him in hand
Children studying Finnish
Q: How did you prepare your family for your new life in Finland?
A: Sanal had told me that Finland was the best place to get an education so my children should start studying Finnish language.
(At this point, Prameela's voice breaks and she begins to cry)
Q: Did they do it?
A: Yes. (Silence and more tears). They started studying from YouTube video libraries. They studied the Finnish alphabet and also the spoken language. They studied a lot in order to get admitted into a Finnish school.
Q: How old were they?
A: At that time my daughter was 13 and my son 11. I just dreamed with a Finnish education for them because Finland has the best education system I know.
Q: Did they also dream about living in Finland?
A: Yes, and Sanal cheated them also. He spoiled all our dreams.
Prameela Devi, with her family. Photo: Prameela Devi.
Q: How did this all affect your family?
(Again, she holds her breath and cries in silence for a while)
A: My husband only has a small freelance job here, with low earnings in the animation (cartoons) industry. Now my whole salary goes to pay back the bank loans I took and it is not enough. So my husband is struggling a lot day and night. My children are growing and they need many things. My husband's parents also live with us here in a rented home and the father is ill. This is why I dreamed of a better life in Finland. Sanal told me that in Finland I would get such a big salary that I could pay all my loans in just one year. And I would need no money for the children education. I believed him and I took the loans. Now we have no options here.
Q: How did you explain the situation to your children?
A: My children still dream with an European education. They have been talking about going to Europe during all their childhood. They even told their classmates, so they had to endure a lot of shame in front of their friends. But they were cheated. We all were cheated.
My children started studying Finnish language from YouTube video libraries. They studied a lot in order to get admitted into a Finnish school. We all were cheated
Wanted by Interpol
Q: Interpol has issued a detention warrant against Sanal Edamaruku. What do you expect from the Finnish authorities now?
A: I need justice. This is human trafficking. He cheated me and surely many other people like me. I am just the first person coming in front of the law, but there are more. Each and every person needs justice. Finnish and Indian authorities should be aware of this case. Sanal is not a good person, he is not a person to live in Finland. He has to be extradited, brought in front of the court in India and give me back my money. I lost my money and all my life.
Q: Do you know if there are other victims?
A: Yes, in 2016 after I had paid all the money and before I learned about the scam, my cousin was also cheated by the same person. He trusted me and contacted Sanal, who also offered education visas for Indian students in Poland. Sanal promised my cousin a study place in the University of Warsaw. He took a loan of 700,000 rupees (more than 8,000 euros) and sent him all the money. At that time I had no idea about the cheating.
Q: Did he ever go to Poland?
A: He went to Poland but not to the University of Warsaw. He got admitted to some evening school there, with other aged people. He had been promised also an unlimited work permit in Poland and he got nothing. He suffered a lot and we had to send him money to survive. Then he dropped his studies and came back to India. It was another scam.
Q: Did he report the case to the police?
A: No. He never filed a complaint about his own case. It would be a shame for him. Now he has a good job in the film industry and it would affect his career.
Q: Interpol’s red notice is dated 10 March 2020, why do you think Edamaruku has not been arrested?
A: I don’t know. I have always been behind this case, I have contacted many people in government offices and asked why it was taking so long. They told me the case is alive and this is the normal procedure. Usually Interpol red notices are executed quickly and I know they have given much importance to my case. I trust my country, I trust my government, I know I will get justice. I think maybe the coronavirus epidemic has delayed it.