Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: Three men involved in idol smuggling have been detained under the Goondas Act.

Talking to reporters on Wednesday, Additional Director-General of Police (Economic Offences Wing) G. Thilakavathi said, “Normally they are charged with theft and hence get very minimal punishment. Under this Act, they can be detained for a year,” she said.

She said that Sanjeevi Asokan, leader of a gang of idol smugglers, was involved in such crimes for over 15 years. He and two of his associates, Shankarlal and Balamurugan, who were arrested recently by the Idol Wing CID police, had been detained under the Goondas Act.

Detailing the modus operandi of Asokan, she said that the accused used to purchase books on archaeology that had details about idols in various temples across Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Using information available in the publications, he would direct his men to steal the idols. He had created separate networks for procuring and selling them.

Ms. Thilakavathi said that Asokan was in the habit of donating funds to temples from where his men stole the idols. Within the country, the idols were moved from one spot to another by road.

He used to export antiques along with similar-looking new pieces. Ms. Thilakavathi said that Asokan had accounts in five foreign banks. The police had frozen his accounts and seized his passport.

She had written to the State government suggesting that a system by which local police keep a constant watch on temples be put in place.

The District Superintendent of Police could monitor temples during his visits, she added.

Ms. Thilakavathi said that young blood must be infused into the Temple Protection Force. Those who had enrolled in the employment exchange could be given weapon’s training and be posted as security personnel in temples, she suggested.