The globetrotting cops who cracked the case of a lifetime

Monday, 27 July 2015 21:43

Police officer Ninge Gowda (left) with an unidentified Indian Consulate official during a visit to Russia

R Ninge Gowda who was at the forefront of the investigation recalls a hunt that spanned the globe It was a sight to behold. The bank lockers that were opened by the CCB police as a part of the investigation into the high profile theft of jewellery, antiques and paintings belonging to the city's celebrity couple, painter Svetoslav Roerich and his actress wife Devika Rani, astonished officers: Antique jewellery, rubies, heirlooms and gold ornaments.

``Many of us had not seen anything like that. What beautiful jewels and their value unimaginable, though we had to estimate a price. If this was the amount of jewellery stolen from Devika Rani, you can imagine the original collection she must have had,'' says R Ninge Gowda, retired assistant commissioner of police, who cracked the case.

Gowda was handpicked by his senior officers to lead the investigation of the case that took three years (1994-97) to come to the chargesheet stage. The case got global attention for the sheer celebrity value of the couple. Though the estimated value of the stolen jewellery that was recovered was put at Rs 50 lakh in 1997, Gowda says that there is much more still missing.

The TriggerRecalling the, the retired ACP, a resident of Banashankari in south Bangalore, says a letter written by Devika Rani's personal secretary Mary Joyce Poonacha to the government opened Pandora's Box. In her letter, Mary Joyce, who was later named as prime accused, mentioned the clearance of pending bills of Hotel Ashok where the Roerich couple lived in their final days.

``This led to a complaint and R Devadas, who was a close family associate of Devika Rani, volunteered a lot of information. In fact, without Devadas, the case would not have been filed, and he cooperated well during the investigation,'' says Gowda.

Incidentally, Mary Joyce is the sister-in-law of Devadas (his wife's younger sister); he was the one who introduced Mary to Roerichs and recommended her for the job of personal assistant. But what followed later left a bitter taste among family members, who severed their relationship with Mary. However, according to Gowda, it was only because of Devadas's perseverance that the case came to light. So much so, he became the prime witness.

Gowda's team worked under senior IPS officer A R Infant, who accompanied his junior colleagues to a lot of places in India and abroad to collect evidence.

"After the CCB took over the case, following a court order to come up with an inventory of Roerichs' properties, we formed a group of well-wishers and friends of the Roerichs who gave us information about what the couple owned. Based on that information, we went to Australia to meet a long-time friend of Svetoslav who had details and photographs of the paintings. We also went to Moscow and Nepal and Infant gave us all the required support.

"To solve a case of this magnitude, an officer like Infant was required. Wherever we went, people who had read about the case would come up to us enquiring about it,'' recalls Gowda.

The trial of the case that was chargesheeted in 1997 has been progressing at a slow pace and taking note of the delay, the city police commissioner recently wrote to the Director of Prosecutions to hasten it by setting up a special court.

The police chief also explained that since the witnesses were ageing, as the case was 21 years old, the prosecution should consider fast-tracking it.

Though the case was chargesheeted by Gowda, he hasn't got summons to appear for a hearing yet.

"Over years, people lose interest in the case and as far as I know, only Devadas's statements have been recorded so far. Due to the age factor, witness may also forget details,'' says Gowda.

Retired state police chief, Infant, who was in the city police commissionerate and monitored the investigation says it was a challenge to crack the case.

``We were successful in concluding the case and recovering a large percentage of stolen paintings, artefacts and jewellery. But it is unfair that the trial is still pending, even after so many years,'' Infant told Bangalore Mirror.

Fast-track time?

In his July 15 letter to Director of Prosecution, the city police chief has stressed the need to set up a special court in this case, with at least three days of hearings in a week. This case gathers importance because of the magnitude of the property involved and the people it belonged to.

Here are some cases that were fast-tracked by setting up special courts: * Serial church bomb blast * Serial kills of Dandupalya aka Dandupalya case. *Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case. * Fake stamp paper scam.

 

By Kushala S, Bangalore Mirror Bureau, Jul 26, 2015

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