After terrorising bank customers in the suburbs for a year, a four-member gang — that soiled clothes of unsuspecting victims with foul water, helped them clean off the stains, and then pocketed their money — was caught by the Malad police last week.
The four men, who are in police custody, are natives of Shamshabad Village, located near Hyderabad in Telangana, and have close to 30 such offences registered against them, in the city. The police have identified the men as Srinivasan Kaundar (35), Ravi Raju Boye (25), Idiyar Hanumant (20) and Shankar Lakshman (19) who are alleged to be related to each other. Before being booked for theft on July 17, the foursome had tricked a 60-year-old in Malad (West) into lowering her guard, before fleeing with Rs 2.5 lakh of her retirement money. The alleged offence took place outside a branch of Indian bank, on S V Road in Malad (West) on the afternoon of June 23. The woman, whose identity the police has protected, had visited the branch with her 37-year-old son and exited at 1 pm after withdrawing Rs 2.5 lakh from her provident fund, in a hand-held plastic pouch.
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“While both were walking out of the bank, the son remembered that he had left his umbrella inside the bank and went back to get it, leaving his mother alone,” said Assistant Police Inspector Vikramsingh Kadam of Malad police station. Even the woman walked a few paces ahead, Boye had allegedly identified her as the victim and communicated that to Lakshman, who was waiting outside. Lakshman then sneaked up behind the woman and sprayed contents of a plastic bottle he had onto her clothes. “Then he walked ahead of the woman and told her that her clothes had been soiled. Hanumant also approached her and corroborated Lakshman’s version,” said Shashank Sandbhor, senior inspector, Malad police station.
Sandhbor added that the men then offered to help the woman wash off the stains and led her to a nearby food stall. “They asked the vendor for water. The woman, the police said, put the pouch on the counter next to her. With the attention focused on washing off the stain, Lakshman quickly and silently grabbed the pouch and walked away, and handed it over to Kaundar, who was standing some distance away,” Kadam said.
The woman raised an alarm when she realised she had been robbed, but the men had vanished by then, the police said. They were tracked down to their rented home in the Vasant Nagari locality of Nallasopara. Sandbhor said the accused had committed similar thefts in Borivali, Gorai, Malad, Jogeshwari and Andheri. “Boye’s job was to act as a watcher inside the bank, looking for customers withdrawing large amounts of money. Lakshman mixed crushed glucose biscuits with water and carried it around in a bottle. The mixture is harmless, but looks dirty. Hanumant would often be the one pointing out the stain to victims,” Kadam said.