The heist that inspired a Hindi movie

MUMBAI: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar's latest film, 'Special 26', is based on a real-life 1987 heist. Also, it's interesting that Akshay plays Ajay Singh - a take on Mohan Singh (the name used by an unknown man posing as a CBI officer during the heist) - the leader of the 27-member team.

The team, barring Singh himself, comprised newly 'recruited' men who were told that they had been hired by the CBI as probationary officers to conduct raids and for other purposes.

The flick inspired by a broad-day light real life heist in which a group of men posing as CBI officers conducted an income tax raid on the Opera House branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri in Mumbai on March 19, 1987.

The robbery still remains one of the most high profile unsolved cases in the history of Mumbai police.

How was the heist carried out?

The sensational robbery dates back to March 19, 1987 when 27 men posing as fake CBI officers stormed into the jewellery store at around 2:15 pm, with the mastermind of the heist walking up to the owner and introducing himself as a Central Bureau of Investigation officer, Mohan Singh.

He then produced a search warrant which said that the CBI was investing the quality of the gold and was asked to put on a board saying a raid was on.

Mohan Singh then ordered that all the close-circuit cameras to be shut down and asked the owner to hand over his revolver to him. All telephone connections were cut-off so that no call could be made during and after the raid.

Then Singh and the 26 'intelligence officers' started packing the jewellery in packets and the money in the cash counter was stashed into briefcases, which was later carried to the bus which the team had used to commute to the store.

Thereafter, Singh asked the new recruits of his team to guard the store as he had to conduct another raid.

He then vanished.

After a while, the men who were asked to guard the store realised something was wrong as Singh did not return. Equally astonished and panicky was the owner of the store, who called up the police only to learn that he had been robbed.

Upon investigation, the police could only find that Mohan Singh had booked a room at The Taj Mahal Palace and had placed an advertisement in a leading newspaper seeking men and women for the post of intelligent officers.

Mohan Singh selected 26 candidates, who had unwittingly become a part of an audacious robbery that still remains unsolved.

A Times of India report of March 20, 1987 says:

"The operation was meticulously executed over the last two days and the entire episode bore close resemblance to a crime fiction, leaving the 70 odd staff and about 30 customers at Tribhovandas Bhimji Zhaveri in a daze.

"For nearly 30 minutes after the "jewel thief" vanished, the "intelligence officers" and the employees did not realise they had been duped. Later, the police were called and the so-called CBI officers rounded up.

"A man called Mohan Singh, checked in at Taj Intercontinental at 5.30pm on March 17 and said he was coming from Trivandrum.

"On his behalf an advertisement was inserted yesterday in The Times of India seeking 50 dynamic graduates for the posts of intelligence and security officers.

"After the interview, 26 persons were selected and they were asked to come to the hotel again today at 11am. By noon, Mohan checked out of the hotel. He had booked a luxury coach through the hotel.

"The recruits proceeded towards Chowpatty in the coach at 12.30pm. Mohan Singh stopped the bus and told the driver and cleaner to wait while he took his staff towards the beach ostensibly to have soft drinks."