In a breakthrough, the Crime Branch CID of the Tamil Nadu police has cracked the sensational train heist case in which ₹5.75 crore cash assigned to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was looted from a moving train a couple of years ago.
The unprecedented robbery occurred on the Salem-Chennai Express on the night of August 8, 2016. A gang broke into the parcel van containing ₹342 crore of soiled but usable currency, and took away ₹5.75 crore.
The stolen money was in ₹500 and ₹1,000 denomination notes that were later demonetised. The gang cut through the roof of the train making an opening measuring 2 ft by 1.5 ft.
After months of strenuous investigation hit a dead end, a special team of the CBCID that was tracking different leads finally hit upon a technical evidence that led to the breakthrough. Sources in the agency told The Hindu on Sunday that a gang of criminals from Madhya Pradesh was involved in the heist.
Going by the mobile phones that were active in the scene of crime, investigators believe that the suspects, four to five men, broke open the roof of the coach as the train moved from Salem to Villupuram.
“We have established clear technical evidence which confirms their involvement. While analysing suspicious mobile phone numbers that were active at the Salem junction and along the route between Salem and Villupuram, we found certain similarities between some numbers. The users were from Madhya Pradesh and belonged to the same locality there. Enquiries revealed that the notorious gang was involved in several grave crimes in north India,” a CB-CID official said, adding that the gang operated on the roof and inside the coach all along even as armed guards of the Salem city police on escort duty inspected the parcel van from the platform side at all scheduled stoppages.
While special teams were coordinating with central intelligence agencies and the Madhya Pradesh police to apprehend the gang, investigators were perusing CCTV footage at the Salem junction and toll plazas along national highways in Salem and Villupuram districts to zero in on visuals of the suspects or their vehicles. “We know who committed the crime. They are now absconding and several teams are working to track them down. It is only a matter of time before they are taken into custody,” the official said.
On how the gang came to know of the high value consignment, the official said information was leaked by an ‘insider’. Asked if the gang had planned to loot the entire parcel of ₹342 crore, the official said the cash was put in 226 wooden boxes and it would have been impossible to open them all and take the money, given the time and other constraints.
“Since the heist was detected only around 11 a.m. the next day, the criminals had adequate time to escape and drive for at least 10 hours,” he said.
Parrying questions on whether they managed to exchange the demonetised currency for new notes, the official said the arrest of the gang would lead to the recovery of cash, if any left, weapons/machinery used to commit the offence, details of vehicles used, etc.
Since there was no record of any serial numbers, the police may find it difficult to link any seizures with the stolen money. Investigators heavily relied on corroborative and circumstantial evidence, including technical, scientific and eyewitness statements, to fix the gang.
During the course of the investigation, CB-CID teams visited various States and examined hundreds of suspects. The police kept a watch on places such as construction sites, where soiled currency could be used for transactions in large quantities.