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AFTER 13 YEARS HE IS STILL AT LARGE

A middle-aged man shoved a search warrant into the faces of the security guards at the entrance to the busy jewellery showroom located in the Charni Road area of central Mumbai. He said he was a CBI officer. With a practiced air, he ordered a posse of 28 junior officers to look around for incriminating documents while he set about the task of picking up jewellery and cash in the show- room.

The 70-odd staff members and 35 customers in the shop at the time watched in surprise as the raid was conducted. Collecting gold and diamond jewelery worth - Rs 20 lakhs, the man walked out alone into the bright hot March afternoon and disappeared forever.

The heist at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri ranks as one of the more sensational robbery cases in the late eighties and has remained unsolved so far. The daredevil operation, which lasted barely 30 minutes, left the city abuzz with rumors about the identity of the conman. The theories afloat were that he could be a relative of a CBI or customs officer, or a dismissed officer from the revenue department.

Monsingh, the name by which the conman referred to himself had masterminded the operation meticulously. The 28 junior officers working under him were new recruits who were kept in the dark about the robbery. Monsingh set the ball rolling by inserting 

 

 an advertisement in a leading city newspaper in March 1987.

The advertisement invited applications from youngsters in their early twenties for the post of Intelligence officers. The venue for the interview was a five-star hotel in south Mumbai where he had booked a plush room. Of. the 100 candidates whom he interviewed through the day, 28 persons were recruited as 'junior CBI officers'.

As part of the training programme, . the officers were informed, they would have to take part in a 'mock raid'. The new recruits were taken in a luxury bus to Chami Road from where they

 

taken away. In a well-rehearsed reply, Monsingh pointed out that 'section 22 of the jewellers' consti- tution gave CBI officers the right to seize ornaments in order t6 check their purity'. Moreover, he also instructed' the cashiers to hand over the cash to him for counting.

While his 28 junior officers searched for incriminating documents, Monsingh lugged the black rexin bag containing ornaments and cash to the luxury bus, Instructing his subordinates to keep a vigil on the shop's staff and excusing himself "to check another scandal nearby", Monsingh zoomed away in the bus along with the booty.

After four anxious hours, both the shop owners and the junior officers realized that they had been cheated. Within the next few minutes, the top brass of the city police swung into action. Policemen found on! that Monsingh had already checked out of the hotel in the morning. The driver of the luxury bus said that the conman was dropped behind the hotel, following which he vanished into thin ail. A massive manhunt was launched for him.

Eye-witness accounts revealed that Monsingh was in his early  forties, dark-complexioned, with a thick rnoustache. He spoke good English with an unmistakable south Indian accent. Thirteen years have passed and he is still at large perhaps even reading this column and having the last laugh. ;

 

Mumbai's X- FILES

 

Jewellery Heist

descended on Hermes House, where the prestigious Zaveri showroom is situated. The show- room was equipped with closed- circuit cameras and a video monitor. Claiming to be a CBI officer, Monsingh rushed into the shop around 2.30 p.m. and flashed a partly printed, partly handwritten search warrant. His next step was to ask the shop owner to switch off the TV cameras and the video monitor. The imposter went around picking up gold and diamond ornaments at random and stuffing them into polythene bags which had small slips containing the government seal on them.

The suspicious owner wanted to know why the Jewellery was being