They are a set of inconspicuous middle-men who carry large amounts of cash on their person to buy stolen gold. Their customers are often burglars, chain snatchers, or front-men of such law-breakers. The police have a collective nickname for them, “Madiyil jewellers.” It is the law enforcer's epithet for “gold traders” who conduct business “out of their own lap” and on the congested pathways of busy markets, chiefly Chalai.

Assistant Commissioner, Fort, M. Radhakrishnan Nair says they blend in with the crowd, transact their business in a jiffy, rarely attract attention, and are largely elusive.

Some even carry touch-stones to test the authenticity of stolen gold brought for sale by their “regular” clients. Most are fly-by-night operators who constantly shift their place of business. The police disapprove of “Madiyil jewellers,” who seem to operate on the fringes of law, apparently more for professional than moral reasons. They say they impede the recovery of stolen gold, which seem to constitute a major portion of police work in the district, given the number of chain snatchings and burglaries that are reported, arguably almost every other day.

Investigators say that law-breakers in gold trade rarely receive stolen property directly from the thieves. Instead, they rely on these middle-men to buy the loot at the street level.

So, when the police arrest a chain snatcher and attempt to trace the person who has bought the loot from him, they often reach a dead-end. With no recovery of loot to show, investigators are often at a loss to fix the responsibility of the theft on the suspect.

According to a trader in Chalai, the middle-men also act as agents for jewellers interested in buying gold from genuine sellers. They track those who come to the market to sell gold and guide them to their employers. “The price of gold varies according to the urgency of the owner to sell it. Stolen gold is often sold for less than half the market price. It is a lucrative business,” he says. The police hope to reduce the scope for thieves to sell stolen gold by identifying and tracking regular recipients of loot, a continuing task that rarely yields expected results, and also by bringing important market places under continuous video-surveillance.

A senior official says the business community in Chalai will soon place video-surveillance cameras on their own to monitor the immediate surroundings of their establishments. The camera network will be linked to that of the police.

But whether such measures help the police deter the so-called “Madiyil jewellers” is anybody's guess. The elusive “jewellers” and their clients appear to be constantly evolving their trade-craft to meet the challenges, if any, posed by the police.