(This is the fourth part of a series on Kerala police officers, who are on the hunt for criminals. Watch this space for more.)
Chasing thieves and robbers is not always a simple cat-and-mouse game. Police teams from Kerala pursuing suspects across the state borders often see the tables turned when their targets team up with the local police to set traps for them.
Some of the officers came across the worst case of criminal nexus in a village in Bengal, where stolen goods find their way to police stations and political party offices.
Jamuria came on the Kerala Police radar after a break-in at a mobile shop at Moovattupuzha on May 5, 2016. The robbers had pried open the back door of the shop and made away with 45 mobile phones worth about Rs 2 lakh. A month later, another shop was burgled at Kacherithazham. This time the loss was 55 phones, worth more than Rs 5 lakh.
The Moovattupuzha police formed a special team to probe the thefts. Principal sub inspector A Anoop led the team of officers, including sub inspector A K Vijayan, additional sub inspector K K Ragesh, senior civil police officers V I Suresh, Abdul Razak, Anil Augustine, Biju Abhilash and Dileep.
The robbers had left behind their images on the CCTV footage at Kacherithazham. The police had been continuously tracking the stolen phones using their EMI numbers. The effort paid off when some of the phones became active a few days later. The police tracked the numbers and the addresses of the holders. At least 15 phones were in Jamuria in faraway Bengal.
The Kerala police were to embark on a 10-day adventure that eventually exposed the unholy alliance between hardcore criminals and cops in the eastern state.
About 200 kilometers off Kolkata, Jamuria has a dubious distinction as a den of thieves. The place was so infamous that wannabe thieves sought out masters in the trade in the village.
The local police told their visiting counterparts that there was no point in going to the village. The Kerala team was convinced that they were on their own in the alien land. They kept on trying, watching the mobile tower locations and other clues.
However, the damage was done. The suspects got wind of the police move, thanks to their friends in the local police. The phone numbers were switched off one by one. One of them was still active. Strangely, its location was away from the village and close to the police station. Surprise gave way to shock when that phone was found on a cop at the station! He, however, claimed that he bought it from an unknown man a few days ago.
The Kerala police team was suddenly on alert. What if that phone was gifted to the cop in return for favors received? They soon found that their doubts were not unfounded. They learned from the locals that a few people had been selling expensive phone sets in the locality a few days ago and they were in touch with the police.
The Kerala team had a list of 25 people who were found to be in possession of the phones. They were promptly searched. Some of them had bought the phones without knowing that they were stolen goods. The cops seized the phones from them. Ten of the people on the list remained at large. They were in the infamous village.
The police team was vulnerable in their hunt for the suspects. Their every move was monitored. The moment they set off on the day’s work, the phones would go offline. They would resurface in a distant hinterland. The police had no way of reaching them. They did not want to enter the village for fear of a backlash from the villagers.
The Kerala police eventually found help from a Malayali police officer in the Kolkata cadre. He prevailed upon the Jamuria police to help the Kerala team find the gang of thieves.
Bengal was an entirely different ball game for the officers from Kerala. The police had to seek prior permission from the local unit of the ruling party to conduct investigation anywhere in the state. The officers tried their luck at the Trinamool Congress office at Jamuria. Some of the local leaders promised to track down the suspects but they themselves went incommunicado the next day. They were also the beneficiaries of the robbers’ market of Jamuria. The villagers rewarded them handsomely for their political patronage.
The party leaders, however, were forced to help the Kerala police team after their game made it into the local press. They met the officers and offered to help. This time they did. The police recovered some of the phones and even arrested a suspect, a 22-year-old young man named Imtiaj.
Imtiaj had called two numbers at Moovattupuzha even before the police team left for Bengal. The police kept the suspects in Kerala under watch but refrained from arresting them for fear of alerting their accomplices in Bengal. With Imtiaj under arrest, the police arrested his friends in Kerala. They were Ajad Ansari alias Sonu and Muhammed Ali.
Ansari had several criminal cases pending against him in Bengal. He was the one to single out possible targets in Moovattupuzha before summoned his brother and friends from Jamuria to strike at the mobile shops.
The whole gang, except Ansari, left for Bengal soon after the first robbery. They sold off the phones in Bengal before returning to Kerala for their next loot, the police learned.
The police are yet to catch three of the suspects but they know that many people from Jamuria and surrounding have reached Kerala as part of the large migrant workforce.
The Kerala team also came across a police team from Haryana on the trail of suspects in Jamuria.