From K'taka to Erode: Idol Wing recovers idol worth Rs 33 crore

Initial inquiries of the Idol Wing reveal that the Balaji idol was stolen a few years from a temple in Mandya in Karnataka by a priest of the temple and the same was sold to an advocate in Gobichettipalayam.
Recovered Lord Balaji idol
Recovered Lord Balaji idol File

CHENNAI: Sleuths from the Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu police seized a 600-year-old idol of Balaji - believed to have disappeared from Mandya, Karanataka - from a house in Gobichettipalayam, Erode on Monday .

Initial inquiries of the Idol Wing reveal that the Balaji idol was stolen a few years from a temple in Mandya in Karnataka by a priest of the temple and the same was sold to an advocate in Gobichettipalayam.

To unearth the antique idols that are in circulation, two SIs from the Central zone of the Idol Wing masqueraded as wealthy idol smugglers. On November 4, the two -namely Pandiarajan and Rajesh- were approached by a broker at Avinashi Road in a coffee shop.

During the conversation, the broker revealed the existence of a 600 years old antique Balaji idol with an old friend, which he could arrange to sell to them at the cost of Rs 33 crore. When the Idol Wing officers showed interest and were eager to buy it, he promised to show them the antique idol the next day.

As promised, the broker, on the following day, led them to the house of an advocate Palanisamy Subramaniam, residing at VIP Muthu Nagar, Nagarpalayam, Gobichettipalayam and showed them the idol. The SIs requested the broker to allow them to test it before buying it to ascertain its antiquity. They again visited the seller's residence the following day, on November 6 2022, and carried out some fake make-believe tests. They informed the seller that the Balaji idol was worth only Rs 15 crore in their estimate. After aggressive bargaining, the advocate agreed to sell the idol for Rs 15 crore, and the SIs promised to come back the next day with cash to procure the Idol.

Immediately, the Idol Wing commenced gearing up for a search operation the next day by deputing Inspector Elango from Tirunelveli IWCID and mobilising other ranks and vehicles. An order authorising the search was obtained from the court and the local Village Administrative Officer (VAO) and Village Assistant presence were sought for the search on the following day from the jurisdictional court. The next day, the two SIs appeared at Advocate Palanisamy's house carrying a briefcase and when the Advocate brought the idol out Inspector Elango and the party swooped on him and seized the idol. The Advocate, realizing that the police had surrounded him, offered no resistance and passively allowed the officials to take custody of the idol. After the search, the IWCID police commenced an investigation of Palnisamy.

During the investigation, Palnisami revealed that he was working as a Junior Advocate under the late P Natarajan in Coimbatore. His Senior, Natarajan, knew a priest working in a temple in Mandya, Karnataka.

The pujari being in a bad financial situation requested Natarajan to organise some money for him and in return, promised to arrange an antique idol worth several crores of rupees in the international market from the palace/temple where he was then working. The details of the temple and the identity of the priest are not known at this juncture as Advocate Natarajan expired in 2018 of natural causes.

Before his death, in 2017 while the late Advocate was bringing the idol to Tamil Nadu, his car was stopped on the way by the Karnataka Police. The police on suspicion searched and found the idol in his car. As Advocate Natarajan did not have papers nor a proper explanation for possessing an antique idol which appeared to belong to some temple. The Karnataka police confiscated the idol and registered a case of theft against the Advocate. In the days to follow, the police completed the investigation and charge-sheeted the case.

While the case was in progress in the court, Natarajan visited Kumbakonam and forged a fake bill for the Balaji idol, which was then lying in the custody of the court in Karnataka. He later produced the fake bill in court and obtained an acquittal in the criminal case. As a next step, he applied for the return of property and got back the idol from the court. After bringing the idol back to Gobichettipalayam, he decided to sell it for Rs 50 crore. A few prospective customers who visited Advocate Natarajan showed interest but shied away as the cost of the idol was very high. At this juncture, he decided to take the help of his junior Advocate Palnisami to sell the idol and handed over the 600-year-old idol to him.

Meanwhile, Natarajan who was taken ill suddenly died in 2018. After which despite trying his best, Advocate Palnisami could not sell the idol though many were interested because of the exorbitant price. He, therefore, decided to engage brokers to help him in the task of selling the idol. Despite engaging brokers, the sale of the idol failed to materialise. In 2021, he decided to bring down the price of the idol from Rs 50 crore to Rs 33 crore on the advice of one of the brokers, said a press release from the Idol Wing.

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