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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Delhi 22.5 crore heist - cracked and amount recovered in 12 hours !!

Newspapers are abuzz with reports of huge cash loss in Delhi. A heist is a robbery from an institution such as a bank or a museum, or any robbery in which there is a large haul of loot.   This is about a big heist committed by an employee of a security company and driver of an armoured van carrying the money.

Do you remember big burly CBI Inspector – SP Balasubramaniam [yes, the great singer]  tracking down the container load of freshly printed bank notes worth 10 billion ~ that was ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ of Mani Ratnam released in 1993 featuring Prashanth, Anu Agarwal and Heera.  Many  heist films would  contain a three-act plot – preparatory plans, execution and unraveling of the mystery.  In cinema, you add heroine, love sequence and songs too.  Wads of Indian currency fresh from printing, gets stolen by a gangster – the container itself is moved by henchman – but the access card comes in possession of a singer.  SPB sets to track down – the pop singer comes across two small time burglars of a village who are already on the run – and Heera is the village girl who flees from home.  In the melee, at one point is container gets covered in haystack, with infights and people trying to cheat other.

In what was described as the biggest cash heist in the National capital, the driver of a cash transit van allegedly fled with around Rs 22.5 crore from southeast Delhi's Govindpuri area on 26.11.15.  The incident was reported in the evening when the armed guard accompanying the van asked the driver to stop the vehicle near Govindpuri Metro station so that he could relieve himself by the roadside, said police.  The driver, identified as Pradeep Shukla, told the guard that he would wait for him in a lane nearby and was last seen taking a sharp turn. When the guard returned, the vehicle and the driver were nowhere to be seen, said police.

The guard, Vinay Patel, informed the matter to the branch concerned of the private bank whose cash they were carrying and bank authorities immediately called up police.  It was reported that cash of around Rs 38 crore — was carried  from  Vikaspuri branch in the day, and the van (DL 1LK 9189) which headed towards southeast Delhi was carrying around Rs 22.5 crore.  A special Crime team of Delhi Police found and recovered the van from near a petrol pump close to the spot where the accused driver had deserted the guard. However, the boxes containing the cash were missing, said police.

Senior police officials who rushed to the spot after the incident was reported maintained that this was not a case of robbery but criminal breach of trust. Scores of pickets and police check points were set up across the city and checking was intensified at the borders to track down the accused, said police.

In what was developing to be the biggest heist, the driver  was arrested at a warehouse in about 12 hours after the theft.  Barring Rs. 10,500, the police recovered the entire amount in the swift operation that saw around four dozen police officers working tirelessly till the driver was nabbed around 4 a.m. on Friday. The police said Pradeep Shukla spent the money in buying alcohol, chicken, clothes and sacks to transport the cash. 

On the one night he was a crorepati,  Pradeep Kumar Shukla gave away some thousands to beggars and homeless people, hours after stealing Rs 22.5 crore in cash, said sources in the police. He spent nearly Rs 10,500 from the heist amount, some of it on expensive alcohol and food, they said.

Shukla (32), the employee of a security company and driver of an armoured van carrying the money, allegedly escaped with the vehicle Thursday evening. He dumped the van near Govindpuri Metro station and stashed the money at a warehouse in Okhla, said police sources. Shukla then hired a tempo, they said, adding that he was planning to take the money and escape with his wife and children.  On way, he reportedly gave  Rs 2,000 to a homeless person and distributed some of the cash among beggars, said sources.  Shukla also bought a cold drink and two plastic glasses from a shop near the warehouse. “He gave me a Rs 100 note and asked me to keep the change. I took only Rs 40 and returned the remaining amount,” said Ajay, the shop owner.  He duped the caretaker of a stating that the boxes contained high quality plastic boxes and gave him Rs. 3000/- too.   “There were nine steel boxes in the van and each had a plastic seal. He asked me to help him unload the boxes but I could not do so, as I am too old. He kept the boxes inside the warehouse and left. He said he would come back soon with a tempo to take away the boxes,” said Ram Surat.

In the night, he reportedly brought a bottle of alcohol and some food stayed stating that the tempo would come the next morning.  Shukla lived with his wife and three children in a one-room apartment in Harkesh Nagar.  Despite his identity being released on television, he  risked a visit home. Also, he asked an unsuspecting neighbour to tell his wife that he would return.  Even though the national Capital had been sealed, the investigators in the Rs 22.5-crore heist feared that the accused driver may make his way out of the city. However, luck worked in the police’s favour through the 12 hours of investigation. Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi has announced a reward of Rs. 2 lakh for the policemen who played a prominent role in the probe.

Had things gone as planned by accused Pradeep Shukla, would have left with the cash, his wife and three children before midnight. But as fate would have it, he did not find his wife Shashikala and their three children at home. “After dropping the cash boxes at a godown in Okhla, he rushed to his home in nearby Harkesh Nagar. But the family had left for the market when he reached,” said a senior police officer. Having disposed of his mobile phone to avoid detection, Shukla had earlier used a landline phone to call his wife, but found the phone was switched off.  Police had been trailing him to the address available with his employers; meantime, another team went to his home town in Balia in UP.  Following meticulously, they reached his present residence.   Upon many enquiries locally, the Police nabbed the culprit in the godown with cash boxes. 

Each donation comprising Rs. 500 notes would be accompanied by remarks such as “tu bhi kya yaad rakhega” (you will remember this for long) and “le, teri kismet khul gayi” (your luck has shone). Shukla also spent some money on himself by buying clothes and getting himself a bottle of alcohol.  He had plans to go to Nepal with his family, stay for sometime, then return to India.   “When we asked him how he intended to spend the money, he said he would have used it all for donation. When we intensified our questioning, he revealed he had planned to invest much of the money into buying property,” said an interrogator.

A background check on Shukla has revealed that he was an eyewitness in a shooting incident reported from Zamrudpur in south-east Delhi earlier in February this year. Six persons were injured when a security guard accompanying a cash van owned by his previous employer opened fire during a brawl. Shukla, however, was not named in the crime. Police are yet to identify if he was involved in any other criminal cases before this.  The man reportedly was frustrated with his low income – now his wrongful desire has landed him in the jail, booked under Section 407 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to criminal breach of trust.  He was remanded to 2 days police custody. 

The 60-year-old security guard, Ram Saras, sheltered the accused through the night, sitting near the cash for hours believing the boxes to be full of plastic.  Ever since police raided the godown, its 60-year-old security guard,, is a bitter man.  He says people in Okhla, where he is employed, now look at him with suspicion.  Ram Saras says that even his employer, the owner of the warehouse which stores electric wires, blames him for bringing in “bad reputation”.   Shukla had duped the storekeeper stating   he was tasked with moving boxes of high-quality plastic from Delhi to Benaras. He said using a private vehicle, instead of following the company’s directions, would save him Rs 20,000.  Shukla reportedly unloaded the boxes on his own using jute sacks to dampen the impact of the fall.

Minutes before the actual raid, a constable had passed by the godown. This alerted Shukla, who closed the godown gate. Ram Saras, still remained unaware.  But in the morning around 4 a.m., they were rudely wakened by Police, Shukla tried to escape.  According to Police sources, the heist of Rs 22.5 crore has revealed alleged lapses on the part of SIS, the private security agency hired by Axis Bank to transport the cash.  The security firm had not followed the rules set by the Delhi Police, which specifically state that a cash van can carry a maximum amount of Rs 5 crore at a time, said sources. Delhi Police are likely to register a separate case over violation of norms, they said. “According to Delhi Police’s norms, five persons, including one custodian, should be present inside the cash van when cash is being transported. But due to the staff crunch, there were only two persons inside the van,” added sources.  The Delhi Police’s Special Cell and the Crime Branch have also joined the investigation, said sources, adding that nearly 50 people have been questioned so far. The security firm’s staff, former employees who have guarded the van and bank officials are being questioned, they said.

A crime story has unfolded so soon due to good action by Police.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
28th Nov 2015

Source : mainly, Indian Express;  - also Pioneer, Firstpost, The Hindu and Times of India.  Photo credit : Indian Express.

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