A criminal network in India is behind a series of extortions targeting home builders in Edmonton's South Asian community, Edmonton police said Thursday.
Investigators say 27 events — five extortions, 15 arsons, and seven firearms offences — are linked to a scheme orchestrated in India and executed by people in Edmonton.
Six young men have been arrested and charged in connection to the series, but EPS Staff Sgt. Dave Paton confirmed Thursday that one of those suspects has since fled the country.
The extortion efforts are happening over WhatsApp, Paton told a news conference.
"Typically our victims receive WhatsApp communication, and then from there, there's a request that comes along with that for compensation to allow those victims to remain safe," he said.
He said the demands are for "significant" amounts of money, but declined to say how much. Many of the victims are home builders, but Paton also declined to say how many people or companies have been targeted.
"The people perpetrating these crimes view them as being affluent and able to provide funds," Paton said.
Police have previously said victims are from the local South Asian community. Paton said most of the people being targeted are of Indian origin.
National task force
Edmonton police are collaborating with several police agencies across the country on the investigation, but Paton said investigators don't believe there is a direct connection to similar extortion incidents in Ontario and British Columbia.
Just north of Toronto, Peel Regional Police launched their own investigative task force last month to look at a "disturbing trend" of extortion attempts "primarily targeted towards members of our South Asian business community."
RCMP in Surrey, B.C., also issued a statement in November about extortion "targeting business owners throughout the Lower Mainland" and asked any alleged targets to come forward.
Edmonton police announced the arrest of six suspects in early January, but extortion events have continued.
Investigators say recent incidents include a house fire in Beaumont on Tuesday and a drive-by shooting at a home in the Cy Becker neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton on Jan. 10.
In a news release Thursday, police said no injuries have been reported as a result of the shootings, but a firefighter was injured in one of the arsons.
EPS is encouraging anyone who has received threats — including those who have paid the demand — or anyone with information about the series of crime to contact investigators.
Paton said a town hall with the South Asian community and Edmonton police is being organized.