15 hours to nab a burglar

Valuables worth ₹1.20 crore were stolen from filmmaker Joshiy’s Kochi residence. Mohammed Irfan, the man accused, turned out to be a burglar from Bihar working alone, targeting premium residential colonies across six States. This was his biggest hit by far, reports M.P. Praveen 

May 03, 2024 09:31 am | Updated 09:31 am IST

Mohammed Irfan, accused in the case of burglary in director Joshiy’s residence in Kochi, being brought to the house for collection of evidence. 

Pic by RK Nithin 

Mohammed Irfan, accused in the case of burglary in director Joshiy’s residence in Kochi, being brought to the house for collection of evidence.  Pic by RK Nithin  | Photo Credit: Pic by RK Nithin 

P.R. Ranish, Corporation councillor for Thevara division, had just dropped his wife off at the Ernakulam Siva Temple in the heart of Kochi city, when he received a phone call on April 20, around 5.45 a.m. At the other end was film producer Anto Joseph. There had been a hit at the house of Mollywood filmmaker Joshiy who made several blockbusters like Twenty20 and New Delhi, which, incidentally elevated Mammootty into a superstar. Valuables of a substantial worth had been stolen, he was told. Ranish lived near Joshiy’s neighbourhood, in Panampilly Nagar, another tony neighbourhood.

Joshiy had called Joseph, who was in turn reaching out to Ranish as a people’s representative, to alert him about the burglary. “For some reason, they couldn’t reach a police officer. I immediately alerted Ernakulam Central Subdivision Assistant Commissioner P. Rajkumar. Then I rushed to Joshiy’s house,” said Ranish. By then, a team from the Ernakulam Town South police station led by the inspector had reached the spot and was conducting the primary investigation. Feeling that a little more urgency was needed, Ranish, whose brother is in the police force, directly rang up District Police Chief (Kochi City) S. Syamsundar.

The magnitude of the burglary dawned on the police when it emerged that valuables worth about ₹1.20 crore had gone missing from a safe in a bedroom on the first floor of the house the Joshiy family has been living in for the past 35 years. As per the First Information Report registered by the police, among the stolen items were two diamond-studded necklace sets, 10 diamond-studded rings, five diamond earrings, 10 gold chains, 10 gold bangles, and 10 premium watches.

Stealing from a full house

“Eight members, including my parents, my family, cousins, and a domestic help were in the house and none of them had any clue about the theft. My wife at some point had heard a noise of a doorknob turning but thought it was the help, who usually slept late. It was only after my mother woke up in the morning did they know about the theft,” said Joshiy’s son and director Abhilash Joshiy who made his directorial debut with the Dulquer Salmaan-starrer King of Kotha last year. Abhilash was away in his flat at Kakkanad on the night of the hit.

Mohammed Irfan, accused in the case of burglary in director Joshiy’s residence in Kochi, being taken to the court by Ernakulam City Police. 

R.K. Nithin

Mohammed Irfan, accused in the case of burglary in director Joshiy’s residence in Kochi, being taken to the court by Ernakulam City Police.  R.K. Nithin | Photo Credit: R.K. Nithin

The window of the kitchen was found broken open using a screwdriver, as the police found later, through which the burglar had gained access to the house. While the house didn’t have any anti-burglar alarm or guard dogs, there were eight CCTV cameras. Only the burglar’s side profile was caught fleetingly on one CCTV camera. He had noted the camera and could be seen masking his face before shifting its direction, the police found.

He then took the flight of stairs to the first floor to reach the bedroom. While he couldn’t open the electronic safes, he found a lockable cabinet an easy target that ended up giving him a fortune. The police said that cabinet was unlocked, which the family denied. “It was indeed locked and was found forcibly broke open. The family members probably didn’t hear any sound since the room has thick wooden panelling that could have effectively shut out the noise,” Abhilash said. The burglar then left by the same window as all the doors remained locked, said the police.

The police estimated the burglary to have taken place between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Realising that the supposedly ‘golden hours’ in cracking any crime were fast petering out, the police switched into emergency mobilisation mode under the direct supervision of District Police Chief, Deputy Commissioner (Law and Order) K.S. Sudarsan and Rajkumar.

Police response

“We immediately put around 150 police personnel, including six inspectors, from across the Ernakulam Central division on the job. Different teams were formed for the physical hunt of the accused, data analysis, including examination of CCTV footage from across the extended neighbourhood, and for tracking of the call detail records of mobile phones in the neighbourhood at the time of the burglary,” said Syamsundar.

During the extensive examination of CCTV analysis, the cops noted an old white Honda Accord with a Maharashtra registration number. It also spotted a red board on the car that read “Adhyaksh jIlla Parishad Sitamarhi.” The car was caught in multiple CCTVs, including near the house. A man was also found entering the car and driving away.

It was already 4 p.m. when the police decided to pursue that lead. Since the car had a Maharashtra registration, it was presumed that it could have been headed to Mumbai. The police shared the images and details of the car with the border check-post. Immediately, a message was relayed back, saying that the car had crossed the border at Kasaragod around 2.30 p.m.

The Kochi city police swung into action realising that if the accused managed to enter Mumbai, if he was headed there, tracking him down would be hard. Syamsundar was immediately on the phone with his IPS batch mate and the Mangaluru Additional Commissioner Raman Gupta and shared the car details with him.

“Raman felt that the accused could have crossed Mangaluru city by then, in which case the next probable city was Karwar, to the north. He was sure about nabbing him in Karwar since the north-south distance of the Uttara Kannada district of which it is a part of was 110 kilometres. He then alerted the Superintendents of Police of Mangaluru, Udupi, and Karwar. I also personally spoke to all three of them,” said Syamsundar.

Before he could reach Karwar though, the Udupi police spotted the car at Kota town, Karnataka. When they tried to wave down the car, the accused sped past them. However, the adventure lasted hardly 4 km before the Udupi police chased him down and caught him, around 5 p.m. The accused, identified as Muhammed Irfan, 35, of Sitamarhi city in Bihar, was in custody with the entire loot in hardly 45 minutes since Syamsundar spoke to Gupta. He had been on the run just 15 hours. The Karnataka police registered a case against him under Section 98 (Possession of property of which no satisfactory account can be given) of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, before handing him over to a team from the Kochi City police.

Findings and fears

Irfan was flown back to Kochi by the morning of April 22 and the interrogation ensued. The police found that the accused was a professional burglar who specialised in lone-wolf operations targeting premium residential areas. The Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems, a country-wide database of crimes and criminals, threw up 19 cases registered against him across six States, the majority of which were in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

One of the cases was registered by the Museum police in Thiruvananthapuram in 2021. It was for the theft of ornaments worth around ₹2.50 lakh and ₹60,000 from the house of the owner of a prominent jewellery chain for which he was never arrested. “We had made an attempt to get his custody after he was arrested by the Goa police. But that couldn’t be worked out owing to the pandemic. We will now approach the court for his custody and record his arrest,” a Museum police official said.

It emerged that Irfan had tried to break into three other houses in the same neighbourhood in Panampilly Nagar on the same night. Though the police initially suspected insider information behind the hit at Joshiy’s house, they have ruled it out for the time being, based on the interrogation.

“His confession that he randomly chose the house after Googling posh residential colonies in Kochi seems true. He had bought the second-hand car but had deliberately not changed the ownership to his name. The idea always was to abandon it or sell it so that it didn’t lead back to him,” said Syamsundar, who felt that Irfan could be behind more such cases registered where the accused remains ‘unknown’.

Reports in a section of media said that his wife was a district panchayat member in Sitamarhi and that he used that to his advantage by putting up a board to that effect in front of the car to avert police checking. However, the police could not confirm it, as his family hasn’t yet reached out to them since his arrest.

Media also circulated stories heralding Irfan as the ‘Robinhood of Bihar’ and how he used to share a certain percentage of the loot with the poor for their medical treatment and the weddings of their children. Even roads in a few villages were attributed to his benevolence. The police did not confirm the stories and said that it wasn’t proper to glorify a criminal.

Joshiy and his son Abhilash hailed the prompt action of the city police. But by the police’s own admission, Irfan may at best spend a few months behind bars before he is released on bail.

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