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The Nizam Museum heist: The tale of two thieves who breached heavy security apparatus to steal gold tiffin box

Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, never ate his food from the gold tiffin box that was stolen from the Nizam Museum in Purani Haveli area of the city on the intervening night of 2 and 3 September. But when the Hyderabad Police finally caught the thieves who had carried out the daring heist, it was both shocked and amused to find that the duo — Mohammed Ghouse and Mohammed Mubeen — had used the tiffin box to eat their own food.

The two burglars had slipped into the museum in the darks of the night through the narrow ventilator after removing the grill. They had done their homework, having checked out the security apparatus at the museum by doing several recces. They knew exactly where the dozen CCTVs were installed inside the museum and did their best to avoid getting caught. Both burglars, in their early 20s, are residents of Rajendranagar area in Ranga Reddy district, that borders Hyderabad. Both are habitual property offenders and Ghouse has been to prison several times.

"What made it easy for the burglars was that the eight security guards deployed at the museum were rather casual and even the CCTVs were not positioned to monitor the right areas,'' says Anjani Kumar, Commissioner of Hyderabad Police.

 The Nizam Museum heist: The tale of two thieves who breached heavy security apparatus to steal gold tiffin box

The retrieved lunch box of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

The burglars were one step ahead of the cops and had employed tricks in order to confuse them. The bike on which they made their getaway, was captured on one of the CCTVs a little away from Purani Haveli. The pillion rider was seen speaking on a cellphone. That made the police form 22 teams to analyse call data from some 300 cell towers in the area that the bike travelled. It turned out to be a wasted effort as it was a red herring. The mobile phone did not even have a SIM and the amount of time the cops spent in tracking who they were speaking to, gave the burglars time to escape from Hyderabad city.

The police started by narrowing the search to some 40 slim-built housebreak offenders who had a similar modus operandi, in their database. A hefty person could not have lowered himself into the narrow ventilator, the police concluded. The police also noticed an arrow mark on the building wall next to the ventilator that had been used for breaking in. The duo had made the marking because there are 28 ventilators at the museum and if they did not intrude through the correct ventilator, they would have landed in a different enclosure.

What was interesting about the marking on the wall was that it was a very neat and straight marking, the kind masons make while building a wall. Further narrowing of suspects put Ghouse under the radar since he was also a mason by profession. It was now a question of tracking him down since the CCTV grab matched his details.

But since the area where the museum is located had 18 exit points, the police had to spread its net wide. Video surveillance near the Charminar where two men on a bike had stopped for repairs caught their attention. A bike that was found abandoned in Zaheerabad district on the Telangana-Karnataka border was found to be the same, confirming that the thieves had escaped into the neighbouring state.

In order to avoid getting tracked by CCTVs on the main roads, the duo had taken the bylanes and hid the stolen property near Rajendranagar. After their bike broke down near Zaheerabad, they had taken public transport to travel to Mumbai where they hoped to meet buyers. They stayed at a fancy hotel, showing the 14-gram gold spoon at the hotel reception as proof that they could pay the high tariff. The police said they were living it up, confident of selling the Nizam Museum's property at a fancy price.

They reportedly returned to Hyderabad when their efforts to sell the valuables did not work out. The police claims it got a tip-off about Ghouse's movement in the area and closed in on the duo on Monday.

Most of the 400 objects kept in the museum were gifts received by the Nizam in 1937 when the silver jubilee of his coronation was celebrated. The three-tiered tiffin box was made of 1950 grams of gold and studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. The cup and saucer weighing 172 gm was also made of gold. The museum is also home to the largest natural pearl in the world, the size of a bird's egg, embedded on the top of a walking stick.

The valuables are testimony to the wealth of the richest man in the world at that time and the worth of the objects on display could be up to Rs 500 crore in the international market. The tiffin box for instance, the police say, could have fetched up to Rs 100 crore in the Dubai antique market.

"The Mukarram Jah Trust that owns the building has been telling the Mufakkam Jah Trust that owns the valuables and administers the museum to move out because it wants to house its school in that building. After this theft, the museum should be moved out preferably to Jubilee Hall next to the Legislative Assembly. It would be apt because it was at Jubilee Hall, built to commemorate 25 years of Mir Osman Ali Khan's rule, that the Nizam received these gifts," said Mohammed Safiullah, a historian.

The burglars in fact, also intended to steal the Holy Quran, a precious relic kept at the museum. But as luck would have it, just as they were making their way into that enclosure, a mosque in the neighbourhood started reading the morning azaan (prayer) at 5.40 am. The thieves dropped the idea to steal the holy book, interpreting it as a divine sign forbidding them from doing so.

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Updated Date: Sep 11, 2018 14:48:52 IST