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Mad money, made in India

A box with Rs 45 lakh in soiled notes has gone missing from Shalimar station prompting the CID to probe the whodunnit that has similarities with 2008 Hollywood comedy-crime flick Mad Money, in which three Federal Reserve employees pilfered millions of dollars in soiled notes meant to be shredded.

The CID team, led by deputy inspector-general Shankar Chakraborty, started the investigation on September 6, four days after Central Bank lodged a complaint after an unscheduled check revealed that one of the 180 boxes kept in a container bogey at Shalimar station in Howrah had vanished.

Of the 180 boxes, 110 came from Central Bank’s Red Cross Society branch and 40 from its Burrabazar branch. The rest were from Indian Bank.

“We have started an investigation and are exploring insider involvement. The missing box had come from Central Bank’s Red Cross Society branch,” said a CID officer.

The bogey — with Rs 81 crore in soiled notes — was to be attached to the Kurla Express on September 2 and taken to Mumbai. Soiled notes from across the country are taken to the Mumbai headquarters of the Reserve Bank of India.

In the Callie Khouri-directed Hollywood film, Queen Latifah, Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes, all employees of Federal Reserve (the apex bank in the US), were involved in pilfering soiled notes. They, however, got away for want of evidence.

The RBI, in accordance with its clean banknote policy implemented a decade ago, destroys notes that are in a “very bad” state and reissues the ones that are in a “bad” state.

Though soiled notes discarded by banks are sucked out from circulation by the apex bank, they have a steady market. “There are operators who take soiled notes from ordinary people and pay them a discounted value. The notes can be exchanged from RBI counters,” said an officer.

The agents dealing in soiled notes can be found outside the RBI office in the BBD Bag area and other pockets in the central business district.

“The matter (of missing box) has been reported to us. We have received the rest of the consignment and are expecting a report from Central Bank,” RBI spokesperson Alpana Kilawala said from Mumbai.

She also added that tracking down the notes by checking their numbers would not be possible as thousands of notes from thousands of series could have been involved.

“We will question each of the 14 armed cops who were guarding the boxes at the station,” said a CID officer.