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Treasure chest of 300-year-old coins in car

Calcutta, May 26: Coins dating back to the 17th century and minted by the East India Company were seized by police from a group of eight men travelling in a car at Bishnupur in South 24-Parganas, about 13 km from here, this evening.

Additional superintendent of the district police R.K. Singh said a team led by Pathik Dutta, the officer-in-charge of Bishnupur, intercepted a red Maruti Omni on its way towards Mograhat in the Sunderbans on the road from Baruipur.

“Acting on a tip-off, the police team stopped the car around 4 pm and asked the men to get off. The police found 68 coins dating back to 1616 beneath the carpet on the floor of the car,” said Singh.

The coins were approximately valued at more than Rs 50 lakh.

Singh said the “half-anna” coins were all made of copper and bore the seal of the East India Company. The former rulers of British India minted coins since the early 17th century under permission from the Mughal emperors.

All the coins bore imprints of Ram, Lakshman and Sita with a kneeling Hanuman at their feet and other attending courtiers.

The police said the coins will be showed to archaeologists and then evaluated. “Each one of them should cost anything between a lakh or more, considering their vintage,” a senior police officer said.

The officers were convinced that the arrested men were “most certainly antique smugglers”. “They would most probably have taken the route to the Sunderbans from where the coins could have easily been smuggled out of the country to international dealers,” senior officers said.

According to Singh, the eight men would be produced in court tomorrow and the police would seek their remand for further questioning. The coins would be handed over to a museum under the court’s supervision for display and study, the police said.

The force sniffed a larger racket behind those arrested today. “Their counterparts were in all likelihood in touch with international clandestine dealers in antiquity. We are trying to get to the masterminds to hit the bottom of the mystery,” said Singh.

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