March 19, 1987!.. 28 so-called probationary CBI officers entered the Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri jewellery shop around 2.15 pm. The mastermind strode straight to owner Pratapbhai Zevari, introduced himself as Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) officer Mon Singh, and produced a search warrant.
The middle-aged man claiming to be a CBI officer, Monsingh rushed into the shop and flashed a partly printed, partly handwritten search warrant into the faces of the security guards at the showroom located in the Charni Road area of central Mumbai. He said he was a CBI officer. With an experienced air, he ordered a group of 28 junior officers to look around for convicting documents while he set about the task of picking up jewellery and cash in the show- room.
The 70-odd staff members and 35 customers in the shop at the time watched in surprise as the raid was conducted. The show- room was equipped with closed- circuit cameras and a video monitor. His next step was to ask the shop owner to switch off the TV cameras and the video monitor. The imposter went around picking up gold and diamond ornaments at random and stuffing them into polythene bags which had small slips containing the government seal on them.
The suspicious owner wanted to know why the Jewellery was being taken away. In a well-rehearsed reply, Monsingh pointed out that ‘section 22 of the jewellers’ constitution gave CBI officers the right to seize ornaments in order to check their purity’. Moreover, he also instructed’ the cashiers to hand over the cash to him for counting.
While his 28 junior officers searched for convicting documents, Monsingh lugged the black rexin bag containing ornaments and cash to the luxury bus, Instructing his subordinates to keep a vigil on the shop’s staff and excusing himself “to check another scandal nearby”, Monsingh zoomed away in the bus along with the booty.
After four anxious hours, both the shop owners and the junior officers realized that they had been cheated. The jeweller immediately called the D B Marg police. The only thing the police learnt was that Mon Singh had booked a room at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower on March 17.
Within the next few minutes, the top brass of the city police swung into action. Policemen found that Monsingh had already checked out of the hotel in the morning. The driver of the luxury bus said that the conman was dropped behind the hotel. Singh got off the bus at The Taj, asked the bell boy to call a taxi, and put the bags inside the vehicle. The taxi headed into the bright hot March afternoon towards Vile Parle where Singh was last seen. A massive manhunt was launched for him. The booty roughly came up to Rs 35 lakh.
A background check revealed that Singh set the ball rolling by inserting a classified advertisement in a leading daily on March 17.
The advertisement invited applications from youngsters in their early twenties for the post of Intelligence officers. The venue for the interview was a five-star hotel in south Mumbai where he had booked a plush room. Of the 100 candidates whom he interviewed through the day, 28 persons were recruited as ‘junior CBI officers’.
He was seeking replies for the post of ‘Security and Intelligence officers’. Candidates who answered were asked to report to room 415 at The Taj, where he was believed to have been staying. He hired an office at Mittal Towers in Nariman Point when The Taj refused to grant permission to interview candidates. Singh selected 28 candidates and asked them to report near Gateway of India around noon the following day. A bus was hired which headed towards Chowpatty. All candidates were handed identity cards with fake government Asoka insignia.
As part of the training program, minutes before entering the jewellery shop the officers were informed, they would have to take part in a ‘mock raid’. The 28 new recruits were taken in a luxury bus to Chami Road’s Hermes House, where the prestigious Zaveri showroom is situated.
The heist at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri ranks as one of the more sensational robbery cases in the late eighties and has remained unsolved so far. The daredevil operation, which lasted barely 30 minutes, left the city abuzz with rumors about the identity of the conman.
Eye-witness accounts revealed that Monsingh was in his early forties, dark-complexioned, with a thick moustache. He spoke good English with an unmistakable south Indian accent. He could be a relative of a CBI or customs officer, or a dismissed officer from the revenue department.
Almost 26 years after the daring daylight robbery, the Mumbai police are still clueless about the mysterious conman who knew too well how the intelligence agency functioned. He is still at large — perhaps even reading this column and having the last laugh!!
The 2013 Indian heist film “Special Chabbis” directed by Neeraj Pandey, is inspired by the heist. The film stars Akshay Kumar and Anupam Kher in the lead roles with Jimmy Shergill, Manoj Bajpai and Kajal Aggarwal in supporting roles.
By: Sunday Midday Team//2010-05-09// Mumbai
By: Mumbai’s X- FILES, Jewellery Heist