NEW DELHI (AFP) - Bibhu Prakash Swain believed in soulmates and true love, or so he told at least 18 women he allegedly married and conned across India before his arrest just weeks before his next two weddings.
The diminutive 67-year-old scoured marriage websites posing as a 51-year-old doctor and persuaded professors, lawyers, medics and a paramilitary officer all over the country to tie the knot, police said.
In status-conscious India, Swain claimed he was on a chunky salary, and used fake identification cards and appointment letters to bolster his credentials and family background.
"He primarily did this for their money, and some sexual pleasure," senior police official Sanjiv Satpathy told AFP.
Officer Satpathy's team arrested Swain after months on his trail, discovering his multiple identities, bank accounts and plans for two weddings in February and March.
"He was always very persuasive," Officer Satpathy said, "and only targeted successful single, widowed or divorced women in their late 40s."
A few "happy and satisfying days into the marriage", the police said, Swain would make excuses to borrow his new wives' money or jewellery to help him with an emergency.
He would then move on to his next target, hoping that the women's circumstances - as a single, widowed or divorced woman who had remarried in a conservative society - would scare them off going to the police.
Investigators believe Swain married more than 18 times and are now going through his mobile phone records where he saved his wives' contacts - as Madam Delhi, Madam Assam or Madam UP (Uttar Pradesh) - named after the places in India where they stayed.
Angry and cheated
Police launched a probe into Swain's multiple lives in May 2021 after a complaint by one 48-year-old wife who, by chance, discovered that he was already married to at least seven other women.
The victim, feeling angry and cheated, police say, "quietly retrieved" the contact details of Swain's other wives from his phone and contacted them individually about their shared predicament.
"This is when we came in and made discoveries about his long history of cheating, impersonation and deceit," Officer Satpathy said.
Swain, born in a small village in the eastern state of Odisha, first married in 1978 and has three children - two of them doctors and one a dentist - with his first wife.
Trained as a lab technician, he fell out with his family and moved to the state capital Bhubaneshwar where he started introducing himself as a doctor and ultimately married a doctor, his second wife, in 2002.
"He has since used multiple names, but always introduced himself as doctor or a professor while looking for wives online," Officer Satpathy said.
The police doubt his ruses were a one-man job and are looking for people who helped him with his elaborate set-ups and moved his money from one place to another.
The Hindustan Times newspaper described him as "no Don Juan", saying he stood just five feet, two inches (1.6m) tall, and that he married at least 27 women in 10 states.
For good measure, he also allegedly defrauded 13 banks out of 10 million rupees (S$180,000) with 128 forged credit cards, and ran a chain of medical labs where doctors and other staff went for months without pay, the paper said.