The Inside Story
Thieves dig 100-foot tunnel to steal crores from Haryana bank's strongroom

CHANDIGARH: In a Bollywood-style heist, thieves dug a 100-foot tunnel to Punjab National Bank in Sonepat district and broke into several lockers decamping with cash, jewellery and other valuables.

The bank is located in a residential-cum-commercial area, near Old Bus Stand in Gohana city.

The daring robbery came to light on Monday morning when bank manager Devender Malik opened the strongroom at 10am. He found the almirahs in the strongroom broken open and Rs 40 lakh cash missing. Apart from this, 88 out of 360 lockers had been prised open and their contents like jewellery and cash missing.

Sources say the loss could run into crores of rupees.
The house from where the robbers started digging the tunnel is unoccupied as it is a disputed property. The robbers seem to have been digging for some days as the tunnel was 2.5 feet in circumference. Tools and earth dumped in the vacant house indicate that the burglars knew the exact location of the strongroom and lockers in the bank.

Preliminary investigations also suggest that the culprits chose Sunday to strike since the area would be deserted.

Unlike other places where strongrooms and locker rooms have at least one feet of concrete covered with a thick iron sheet, this one had an ordinary floor which was easily punctured by the burglars. "We have constituted teams to crack the case at the earliest,'' said Sonepat SP Arun Nehra.

Bank officials have asked the clients whose lockers were broken open to provide details of their contents.

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Sonipat heist plotter found dead as cops crack case

SONIPAT: Three days after thieves were found to have cleaned out 78 lockers from a bank in Sonipat, cops on Thursday claimed to have cracked the multi-crore heist case even as the alleged mastermind was mysteriously found dead in his car.

Police said Mahipal — the alleged brain behind the heist who owned the abandoned house from where the thieves dug an 84-foot-long tunnel to the Punjab National Bank's locker room — had committed suicide. His body was found on Panipat road around 3pm. It had no visible injuries and police said the autopsy report is awaited.

Haryana police have arrested three of the four other suspects. All of them are from the neighbouring Kathwal village and, strangely, none has a major criminal record. Police said they have recovered 39kg of gold and silver ornaments and some cash.

Among those arrested is Satish, a property dealer, Surender, a lab technician and Balraj, an 'agriculturist'. Search is on to nab the fourth suspect, Rajesh.

"Mahipal was the main conspirator. He involved the four others to execute the job. We suspect Mahipal committed suicide because he feared being caught," Arun Singh, Sonipat superintendent of police, told TOI.

The bank branch where the heist took place is on Gohana road. TOI visited the spot and found a 10-12 feet wide street separated it from Mahipal's house, where the tunnel began. The strong room, where the lockers were present, is at the extreme end of the building that housed the bank.

Police claim the four thieves would visit the house at night and work on the tunnel till dawn. Cops said they used heavy iron rods, spades and trowels (khurpa) to dig the tunnel and they broke open the locker using a jack, said officials.

The digging was done with such finesse that telephone cables and water pipelines in the tunnel remained completely untouched. The tunnel was about three feet high and two to three feet wide.

Haryana police have arrested three of the four other suspects. (PTI photo)

"The bank has 350 lockers. The thieves managed to decamp with valuables kept in 78 of them. They broke open a total 86 lockers," said a source.

Cops were taken aback by the profile of the suspects. "It is surprising that these novices managed to make such an elaborate plan and execute it with precision. Also, the mysterious death of Mahipal raises more questions than answers about this bank heist. The real story, I feel, is yet to come out," said an investigating official. He did not rule out the possibility of some bank employee or customer being involved. But the police, on record, denied any such theory.

The involvement of PMO, which sent a senior official to look into this case a day after it was reported, has also led to speculation here.

Officials said they got a crucial lead during routine questioning. "We were informed about the heist on Monday when one of the customers went to operate his locker. He raised an alarm and called in senior bank officials. We rounded up every resident, shop owner and even the vendors near the bank. One of our informers told us about Surender who frequented the abandoned building. We nabbed him from the Kathwal village and he confessed to his involvement in the crime. He also told us about his accomplices." said the police.

Meanwhile, the customers who had their lockers with the Punjab National Bank continued to protest outside the bank to demand immediate recovery of their valuables. They claimed that the bank did not use safety measures as per the guidelines of the RBI for the strong room.

"The base of the building was weak. That's why the thieves could easily drill into it. Also, there were no CCTV cameras or alarms," said Saroj Ravi, one of the customers.

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