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1987 Heist at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri: The Real Story that Inspired Indian Film Special 26



The robbery at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri still remains one of the most sensational unsolved cases in the history of Mumbai police. The famous 2013 film, “Special 26” starring Akshay Kumar is based on a true and the world’s most intelligent robbery, the 1987 heist at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) Mumbai, India, is a gem of a robbery planning and execution.


Although the criminal activity is not brought to the bright light, but it remains what it is, especially the person responsible for carrying out the activity is still at large and well, and most probably living in large too.


The incident dates back to the afternoon of March 19, 1987, when Arvind Inamdar received an urgent phone call at his office at the Police Headquarters in Mumbai, India. Inamdar was informed that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raid had taken place at Triibhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, the most prestigious jeweller. Inamdar recalls, “They came in, pulled down the shutters, ordered customers and staffs to wait and took the registers”.


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The heist occurred as planned, Singh, the mastermind introduced himself to the owner Pratap Zaveri, strode straightway to Pratapbhai Zaveri, the owner of the jewellery house and introduced himself as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer, and later handed the owner a search warrant. He further requested for switching off all the CCTV cameras and surrendered a licensed revolver for the security of the store. Even incoming and outgoing calls were barred.


Singh along with his team collected samples of ornaments for assessing the quality of the gold. The owner accompanied them when they picked up the assorted jewellery before sealing them in polybags. The collected ‘samples’ of jewellery was put in polybags and were sealed with slips showing a government seal. The fake CBI team also collected huge amounts of cash from the cash counter and stashed into briefcases.


After forty-five minutes, Singh asked a person for keeping the briefcases into the waiting bus. While Singh left to ‘supervise’ another raid, the probationers were asked to guard the store in the Opera House. After waiting for about an hour, the 28 probationers suspected something amiss and the owner immediately called the D B Marg police. The only thing that the police learnt that Mohan Singh, on March 17 booked a room earlier at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower.


Meanwhile, Mohan got off the bus at the Taj, ordered the bell boy for calling a taxi and kept the bags inside the vehicle. The taxi headed towards Vile Parle, and Singh vanished afterwards. The amount accumulated from the shop was worth $3million.


Later a background check revealed that Mohan Singh alias Mon Singh placed a classified advertisement on the Times of India newspaper of the March 17 issue asking for “50 Dynamic Graduates for Intelligence Officers Post”. Candidates who answered were asked to report to room 415 at the Taj, where it is believed that Mohan was staying.


However, after refusal from the Taj for conducting an interview, he rented out a place and set up his office in the nearby Mittal Towers in Nariman Point. Out of the total number of candidates who showed up, he selected 28 from amongst them.


The selected 28 were asked to report near the Gateway of India around the noon on the following day. A bus was hired that headed towards Chowpatty. The candidates also carried their ‘fake’ identity cards carrying the fake government Ashoka insignia that were handed to them. The candidates were addressed for undertaking a ‘mock raid’ at the famous Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) jewellers’ Opera House store located in Mumbai, India a few minutes before heading to the shop.


The police put out a nationwide alert, sent a team to Kerala as Singh spoke a distinct south Indian accent, and left behind an address of Trivandrum at the Taj during his stay. A man identified as George Augustine was arrested, who later turned out to be a mere thief. Deputy Commissioner of Police, S.M. Mushriff, who was in charge of the case, stated it to be “a very smart operation”.


Inamdar states that police informers were executed for possible connection among the gangs, which failed to exist. They even followed up the obvious thought that a CBI officer who transformed into a rouge, however, extensive checks of the records by the Mumbai police discounted the possibility.


The Mumbai police even sent a team of officers to Dubai expecting him being found there but returned empty-handed. Singh appeared to have acted alone, Inamdar says, “You could say it was a perfect crime”, and left no traces.


Even after four decades of the incidence of the daring daylight robbery the mastermind, Mohan Singh alias Mon Singh remains in the society unpunished under the law. Even the Mumbai police remained clueless about the mysterious conman, who had the perfect knowledge regarding the functioning of the intelligence bureau.


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