Jain idols: A heist and a recovery that fails to convince

Sep 06 2013, 15:10 IST
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15 antique idols stolen from temple; Inter-state trail leads to leading jewellers. 15 antique idols stolen from temple; Inter-state trail leads to leading jewellers.
Summary15 antique idols stolen from temple; Inter-state trail leads to leading jewellers.

An idol heist from Karnataka in July, among the biggest in decades, remains as mired in mystery as ever after the recovery of some of the idols and four arrests from a crime network that spreads through at least four states.

Police claim to have recovered eight of the 15 Jain idols, said to be worth several thousand crore rupees, but say five of these idols have been melted. The trustees of the temple where the idols belonged are not convinced that these are indeed the molten remains of the lost idols, and have hired a private detective to trace the originals. They have also uploaded CCTV footage of the theft on YouTube, and jewellers who have seen the video believe such a thief couldn’t possibly have melted the idols, which they guess have probably been smuggled out of the country.

The main accused is part of a jewellery chain and related to its owner, who is based in Raipur and among the leading jewellers in Central India. The trustees allege that Karnataka police have told them that the Chhattisgarh police are not cooperating as the jeweller is “highly influential”.

The idols, dating back two centuries before Christ, belonged to Guru Basadi temple in Moodbidri, a religious town of Dakshin Kannada. The theft was discovered on July 6. The locks were found broken and CCTV cameras had recorded the thief’s image. His face was covered but based on local inputs police identified him as Ghanshyam Das, alias Santosh, of Orissa. A week later, Karnataka police raided the home of his father-in-law, Digambar Mohanty, in Bhubaneswar and recovered three intact idols and “five that had been melted”. Mohanty and Das’s wife Diptimayee were arrested from there, and Das later from Srikakulam by the Andhra Police police.

Following the interrogation of Das, Karnataka police raided in early August the Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, showroom of Anoopchand Trilokchand Jewellers, among the biggest jewellery chains in central India, and arrested Subhash Sancheti alias Rajaji, owner of the Bhilai branch and brother-in-law of the chain’s owner.

“Our probe found that the idols had been disposed of at their shop. This was not the first instance. Das had been supplying stolen items to this jeweller for long,” Mangalore police commissioner Manish Karbhikar told The Indian Express.

The jewellery chain’s owner, Shanti Baradiya, soon visited the temple. “He sought a settlement. We told him that’s the task of the police.

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