Crime Branch busts ‘fake antique’ racket in Kochi

The Crime Branch (CB) has arrested a self-styled antique collector and amateur archaeologist on the charge of palming off recently handcrafted cheap knock-offs as authentic relics to uninformed, over-enthusiastic and well-heeled persons with a zeal for acquiring rare artefacts.

Officials identified the suspect as Monson Mavunkal, an alleged confidence trickster who moved about in celebrity circles in Kochi posing as a German-trained cosmetologist and member of the World Peace Council. He is also a vlogger with a sizeable social media following.

An investigator claimed Mavunkal was a fabulist who wilfully blurred the line between fact and fiction for personal gain.

For one, Mavunkal had allegedly claimed to own the ‘staff of Moses,’ silver pieces received by Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus Christ to Roman soldiers and other imaginary rarities from the mythical world.

The accused allegedly claimed to own the throne of Tipu Sultan, a copy of the first edition of the Holy Bible, and books and parchments from the libraries of Mogul Emperor Aurangazeb and iconic Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Mavunkal also allegedly claimed to have the original and hitherto unknown works of Raja Ravi Varma and Pablo Picasso.

The suspect has denied the charges. He reportedly told investigators that he had clarified to his customers that items he sold to them were replicas of historical artefacts and not the original antiques.

Nevertheless, the police said the ‘racket’ came to light when they started investigating a set of complaints, accusing Mavunkal of financial fraud. Some of the petitioners claimed that Mavunkal owed them sizeable amounts of money.

Investigators said the accused appeared to have convinced his ‘victims’ that the Sultan of Brunei and few other potentates in the Gulf had transferred vast sums of money to his various bank accounts in exchange for antiques.

However, the processing fee for realising the amount was sizeable. Mavunkal allegedly said he required a colossal cash advance to avail himself of the sale proceeds. Officials said Mavunkal often convinced lenders by showing them ‘fake’ deposit certificates.

The CB used the services of law enforcers proficient in tracking down looted antiquities to verify the authenticity and provenance of Mavunkal’s collection, much of it displayed on shelves and inside glass cases at his private residence in Kaloor.

Investigators claimed they traced many of the artefacts to a set of handicraft makers in Cherthala. They suspect that film actors and other celebrities were also victims of the ‘fake antique’ racket. The police are scheduled to produce the suspect in a court in Kochi on Monday on the charge of conspiracy, cheating and forgery.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 4:56:31 PM |

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