The Chelembra Bank Robbery: Solving bank heist that was unlike any other : The Tribune India

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The Chelembra Bank Robbery: Solving bank heist that was unlike any other

The Chelembra Bank Robbery: Solving bank heist that was unlike any other

India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank Robbery by Anirban Bhattacharyya. Penguin Random House. Pages 304. Rs 350

Book Title: India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank Robbery

Author: Anirban Bhattacharyya

Sanjay Khurana

IT was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2007, when a sleepy town in Kerala — Chelembra in Malappuram district — made national headlines. ‘India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank Robbery’ captures all the facets of India’s biggest and most sensational bank heist: a whopping Rs 8 crore, including 80 kg of gold. The investigation was led by Malappuram SP Puthiyottil Vijayan (now IG of Kerala Coastal Police).

Inspired by Bollywood blockbuster ‘Dhoom’, four men conspired to make quick money. After a recce, they chose South Malabar Gramin Bank in Malappuram. They zeroed in on this branch because it was located on the first floor. On the ground floor was a restaurant. They struck a deal with the owner of the building to run the restaurant.

The four would visit the bank often to find the exact location of the strong room. To distract people, they put up a board outside the restaurant that it was under renovation. They marked the area on the ceiling to be used for entering the strong room of the bank. They started the drilling work on the evening of December 29 (Saturday) after the bank closed. By the early morning of Sunday, they were able to enter the strong room and decamp with the booty. They had used detonators, gas cutters and drilling machines to break the ceiling and lockers.

A special investigation team under SP Vijayan was formed. Every name and address that had been given to take the restaurant on rent turned out to be fake. During the investigation, the police saw ‘Jai Mao’ scribbled on the wall. Earlier, too, ‘Jai Mao’ was found written in small banks and ATMs that were looted. The police thought it was a handiwork of Naxalites. They also got a call that some gold was lying in a hotel room and the informer claimed a Naxal was staying there. This was done to mislead the police.

Then the police started electronic surveillance and found that nearly 25 lakh phones were active on December 30 and 31 at the telecom tower nearest to the bank. After analysing the data threadbare, they amazingly zeroed in on one number. It was found to be in the name of Joseph in Kozhikode. Finally, the police caught Joseph, alias Babu (the mastermind), on February 27, 2008. With his help, the other three accused were arrested. A large part of the booty was also recovered.

The author, Anirban Bhattacharyya, is the producer of India’s longest-running crime show on television: Crime Patrol. Constructed from extensive first-person interviews with the police team and the confessional details of the criminals, the book details how one of India’s biggest bank heists was executed and the cat-and-mouse game that ensued. If you love thrillers, this is the book for you. And come to think of it, this is a true story.