Updated: June 25, 2021 7:32:25 am
THE ROLE of several policemen, including senior officers, has come under the scanner of a CID probe into disappearance of 4.9 kg of gold worth over Rs 2.5 crore from a gold merchant’s car, which was stopped and seized at a checkpost on a national highway by Belagavi Police on January 9 this year.
The CID, which registered two FIRs earlier this month to probe into the matter, has issued notices to several police officers, who were working in the Belagavi region at the time, to join the investigations.
IPS officer Raghavendra Suhas, the former IGP of northern range, which is headquartered in Belagavi, is among those asked to join the probe, police sources said. On Wednesday, he was questioned about aspects of the case, which unfolded while he was the IGP in Belagavi, the sources said.
“All those who may have information about the crime are being given notices to participate in the investigation. The issue of a notice does not make anyone a suspect,” said a senior police officer involved in the investigation.
On January 9, a Maruti Ertiga car belonging to Tilak Poojary, a gold merchant from Mangalore region, was stopped at a toll gate on NH-48 – between Belagavi and Kolhapur – by a team from Yamakanamaradi Police Station, seemingly on the basis of a tip-off that gold was being smuggled in the car.
In an FIR registered later that night, the police charged three persons in the car – Navaneet Gajanan, 31, a goldsmith; Karunakar Shetty, 46, a driver; and Laxman Poojary, 50, also a driver – under Section 96 of the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 for moving “under suspicious circumstances”. The FIR filed by a sub-inspector Ramesh B Patil did not mention any gold in the car and only referred to the men carrying a steel knife.
There was in fact no mention of gold or its disappearance in police documents until April, when a Belagavi court ordered that the car be returned to its owner Tilak Poojary. After he got the car back, Poojary told the police top brass in Belagavi for the first time that there was gold in the car and it had gone missing. He claimed to have stashed 4.9 kg gold in the car’s airbag compartment to keep it safe from robbery.
He claimed to have petitioned then IGP Raghavendra Suhas, who asked the Belagavi SP to conduct a probe. With the police not initiating a formal case despite allegations by the gold merchant, the state government earlier this month asked the CID to conduct a probe.
According to a June 7 FIR registered by the CID’s Financial Intelligence Unit – based on Poojary’s allegations – a businessman from Dharwad, Kiran Veeranagoudar, and unnamed police officers are behind the disappearance of the gold.
According to the FIR, soon after the car was seized, Veeranagoudar approached Poojary, claiming he had contacts in the police. He allegedly told Poojary that the car – and the gold – would be returned on payment of Rs 70 lakh bribe, which was later reduced to Rs 30 lakh. He claimed that of this amount, he paid Rs 25 lakh to Veeranagoudar but he later returned the money. According to Poojary, when the car was returned by the police on the basis of court orders later, the gold was found missing.
The CID filed a separate case against Veeranagoudar, who has been arrested, for claiming to be a police officer by using a fake identity at a toll plaza in Hirebagewadi region of Belagavi on January 10, when he is alleged to have negotiated a deal for release of the car.
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