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Inspired by Dhoom, man posed as scholar and stole shawls worth Rs 2cr from Delhi museum

Delhi Police arrested three men for the theft of 16 Pashmina shawls, worth about Rs 2 crore. The alleged mastermind had conducted a trial run to test for weak points in the museum’s security.

delhi Updated: Nov 24, 2017 13:49 IST
Shubhomoy Sikdar
Shubhomoy Sikdar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Stolen antique shawls,Crafts museum,Delhi Police
Delhi Police display some of the stolen antique Pashmina shawls that were stolen from the Craft’s Museum in November. Police recovered the shawls after arresting three men, one of whom had spent considerable time in the museum.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

Vinay Parmar did not face any problem in getting access to Delhi’s National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum as a researcher. He even convinced the staff at the museum that he would soon take over as their boss.

He chose the vintage Kashmiri Pashmina shawls worth crores of rupees as his subject of “research” at the museum in Pragati Maidan and kept an eye on them for months before stealing 16 of them.

Delhi Police arrested Parmar and his cousin Tarun Harvodiya from Kolkata on November 13 and seized 15 shawls from them. They found the sixteenth shawl at antique dealer Mohammad Adil Sheikh’s Fazal Enclave house on Thursday and arrested him as well.

The shawls, valued at Rs 2 crore and estimated to be more than 250-years-old, were allegedly stolen from the museum, popularly known as the Crafts Museum, late on October 29.

Deputy commissioner of police (New Delhi) BK Singh said on Thursday that Parmar was inspired by the Bollywood movie Dhoom 2 and committed the crime as he wanted to lead an extravagant lifestyle.

“Parmar made several trips to the museum, claiming to be a scholar ... Posing as a scholar allowed him more time than a regular visitor to minutely examine all the shawls and gauge their worth,” said Singh.

Parmar enlisted Harvodiya to execute the plan once the shawls were marked. He chose a Sunday night to strike because the theft would not be discovered until Tuesday as the museum is closed on Mondays and even carried out a dummy run to come up with a foolproof strategy, another investigator said.

“He hid in the museum to check whether the CCTV cameras inside were working on October 22, exactly a week before the night of the theft. As the other guests left around 5:30pm, he stayed back and spent nearly an hour and a half before raising an alarm. Parmar then screamed and banged on the doors until staff members opened the place to rescue him,” said Singh.

Parmar told the museum staff that he had been signalling to the closed-circuit television cameras focusing on the shawls but no one came to his rescue and that is how he learnt that those cameras were not working, police said.

He also noticed that the museum’s basement was open and could be a relatively safer place to hide after closing time, they added.

Parmar and Harvodiya went to the museum on the evening of October 29. Harvodiya hid in the basement and Parmar left with other visitors when the staff locked the museum.

He told Harvodiya about the shawls to be picked and their specifications such as colour and locations. Once he collected all the marked shawls, Harvodiya broke open a window and made an exit.

The museum’s custodian Shahjahan Ansari opened the museum on the morning of October 31 and found the shawls missing and reported the matter to the police.

The cousins, police said, left for Kolkata where Parmar’s in-laws live, leaving one of the shawls with Sheikh.

The police started tracing all the mobile phones in the area during the time of the theft. It later emerged that Parmar had bought a SIM card specifically for planning the theft. The number was found switched off but was put on surveillance.

“Only once did he switch it on and received a ‘Welcome to Kolkata’ message from the cellular service provider. This message was flashed to us giving us the IMEI number of his phone. Later, he used the same device to insert another SIM telling us his locations,” said an investigator.

“The cousins were later arrested from different hotels of Kolkata while Sheikh was arrested at their instance after interrogation,” he added.

Police suspect that Sheikh, a globetrotter who owns an export business, allegedly kept the shawl as a sample to show his prospective clients.

Sheikh, however, denied doing anything wrong during the press conference.

The shawls were bought between 1959 and 1967 from Kashmir for Rs 24,829, an official in the textile ministry said. They were on display at the exhibition boards in the textile gallery of the museum for years.

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 09:58 IST