Police on Wednesday arrested the anchorite (mahant) of the Emar Mutt in Puri for his alleged involvement in the large-scale theft of silver bricks at the institution he heads.
Six others including a jeweller who helped the mahant sell the bricks were also nabbed. Their arrest led to the recovery of 340 kg of silver, worth about Rs 8 crore.
“The mahant, Rajgopal Ramanuja Das, was the kingpin of the theft,” Puri SP Sanjay Kumar told Hindustan Times.
On February 26, police had recovered 522 pieces of silver bricks, together weighing about 19 tonnes, after breaking the walls of a room in the mutt, located before the famous Lord Jagannath Temple, about 70 km east of Bhubaneswar.
“The market price of the recovered bricks – each weighing between 35 and 40 kg – will be about Rs 90 crore,” Sanjay Kumar had told Hindustan Times in February.
The monastery had been under repair for two months when the theft was discovered.
Rajgopal Ramanuja Das had said he had no knowledge about the bricks. “However, my predecessor had given a hint of some hidden treasure,” he said.
Police got to know of the matter when a man was arrested while selling a silver brick stolen from the monastery. The lead given by him led police to the mutt, one of the temple town’s oldest monasteries, governed by the Orissa Religious Hindu Endowment Act.
It then transpired that while digging some labourers learnt treasure was hidden in a sealed room. Some of them then became involved in stealing bits of the valuables.
The recovered bricks were of 300 years’ vintage and had markings of companies in the UK, Canada and China.