Written by Gargi Verma
The arrest of nine men and a woman over the last 20 days in connection with the heist at the Bank of Baroda on November 11-12, has helped the Navi Mumbai police to reconstruct the operation in which the robbers entered the locker room through a nearly 30 feet tunnel dug from a nearby shop. Police claim to have recovered around Rs 12 lakh in cash and 5.5 kg gold, over 50 per cent of the loot.
The arrested include five main accused including the mastermind, besides some involved in just digging the tunnel. Police are looking for at least three more men. Among the arrested, the police identified Haji Ali Mirza Beg, Shravan Hegde, Momin Khan, Moinuddin Shaikh and Anjan Mahanti as the main accused, and Adesh Verma, Shubham Verma, and Kishan Mishra, as workers who dug the tunnel. A jeweller Sanjay Wagh, and Beg’s sister Mehrunissa, who acted as the safekeeper of the loot, were among the arrested. Shaikh was arrested from Howrah, three others were arrested from Malegaon and three from Uttar Pradesh.
The first accused to be identified, Gena Bacchan Prasad, in whose name the shop was taken on rent, had died in August in a Rajasthan hospital, police said. “He was suffering from some illness. His death ensured nobody would know who had been staying in the shop,” an officer said, claiming it is likely that Prasad was roped in for this very reason. “Even though his documents were fake, his picture was in all of them making him easy to identify,” he added.
Navi Mumbai crime branch said the heist was planned mainly by five men. “The five, including mastermind Haji Mirza Beg, have over 100 cases of house break-ins and robberies registered against them,” said a senior officer. Some of them met over the previous year in jails across Maharashtra, where they were lodged for varying periods, the police said.
A meeting was held in Asalpha village near Ghatkopar (West) between the five. “In April 2017, when they met, the agenda was to decide where to pull off the heist,” said the senior officer. The group started scouting for potential targets. “In May, they found this shop in Juinagar three doors away from the locker room of the Bank of Baroda. One of them checked the position of the locker room. The shop was taken on rent with the help of fake documents,” said police commissioner Hemant Nagrale.
The gang then started digging the tunnel. “Four men from UP were brought in to make the tunnel. They had a sophisticated crusher and grinder along with other equipment,” said a senior officer.
They deployed some men to make sure neighbours don’t get suspicious, police said. “They had Chinese made walkie talkies and used them to raise an alarm. Whenever someone came around, they used to switch off the equipment and feign to sleep, or hide in the tunnel, which was covered by wooden planks and poles,” said a senior officer investigating the case.
On 11th and 12th November, the gang broke into the locker room. “About 45 lockers were empty. The accused inserted wires in lockers to find which ones were not empty. Over a period of 24 hours, they broke into 30 lockers,” Nagrale said.
Among the recovery made by police is some foreign currency that nobody has disclosed or even claimed. “We have dollars, dhirams and riyals which no one has claimed. If someone claims it, we shall follow due course of action to maintain that this is not illegally stashed currency,” said a senior officer.
According to police, the entire heist cost Beg around Rs 8.5 lakh. “We believe he earned this money in his previous robberies. The money was used to buy equipment, rent the shop and pay for the upkeep of workers brought from UP,” said Nagrale. The police found a car, possibly stolen, used in the heist along with cars of Moinuddin, Beg and others.
Nagrale said the heist was well planned. “It was almost like a Hollywood movie; everything had been taken care of. They even had a system to dispose of the debris from the tunnel. The men involved didn’t have enough technical knowledge to dig through. But they managed without anyone getting to know,” he said.
Talking about the need to secure such places, Nagrale said, “We have planned a security seminar for banks and locker manufacturers. The layout of the room and construction of lockers need to change. We going to give many pointers for the security teams as well.”
Beg had started a small shop in Zaveri Bazaar to dispose of the stolen gold jewellery, said the crime branch. “However, when he realised we were on his trail, he shut shop and vanished,” a senior officer said.