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Outcry after Muthoot gold heist

- Company denies charge of foul play, official promises compensation
The depositors speak to Muthoot officials. Picture by Arup Sarkar

Durgapur, Feb. 4: People who had mortgaged their gold with Muthoot Finance for loans in Durgapur gheraoed the regional manager today, claiming the company had staged the over Rs 12-crore robbery.

A CID team from Calcutta that visited the Muthoot office today said none of the eight alarm bells was pressed during the robbery on February 1.

Contacted, George Kuruvila, the senior regional manager of Muthoot’s Calcutta division, said the gang members were standing close to the alarm bells, which prevented the employees from pressing them.

Kuruvila said the allegations of the borrowers were “not true”. “We expect the police to arrest the culprits soon and bring back the gold. The quantity of gold stolen is worth about Rs 13 crore. The gold was insured as is the practice,” he said in Calcutta.

In Durgapur, over 50 people demonstrated outside the company’s office and alleged that only those lockers were targeted that had large quantities of gold.

“The 29.30gm of gold I had mortgaged for a loan of Rs 52,000 was looted but the 18gm of jewellery I kept to borrow Rs 30,000 was intact. Why did the robbers only target the lockers that had large quantities of gold? How did they come to know about the particular lockers?” asked Lipika Ghosh, 30, a homemaker.

Some borrowers also accused the Kerala-based company of withholding information.

“The company officials are not telling us anything. Yesterday, they said they would give us compensation after deducting a portion when we repay our loan. But that’s all. None of our questions is being answered. They are making us wait for hours,” said Indranil Sur, a 40-year-old businessman who had deposited 74.6gm of gold to borrow Rs 1.35 lakh.

The demonstrators surrounded regional manager Suresh Kumar when he came out of his room to speak to them.

“Why did the company lack adequate security arrangements at its office where such a huge amount of gold was kept? We mortgaged our ornaments with Muthoot Finance thinking that our gold was in safe hands,” said Biswajit Neogi, 45, a businessman.

A member of the CID team that inspected the Durgapur office said “there were eight alarm buttons but none was used” and pointed out that on January 31, “a robbery attempt was foiled at Muthoot’s Chandernagore branch after an alarm button was pressed”.

He added that the only guard in the building “was aged and the robbers overpowered him easily”.

Regional manager Kumar tried to pacify the agitators by saying they would not lose on their gold. “The people whose gold was robbed on Friday will be compensated either in cash or gold soon after they repay the loan. It would be difficult for us if they want it immediately. The process will take some time,” he said.

Asked about the complaints of lack of adequate security arrangements, Kumar said the company had taken enough precautions.

Kuruvila, too, said: “We will strengthen our security further. Usually, there is one security person in a branch and two if the branch is big.”

Friday’s robbery of 36kg of gold in Durgapur is perhaps the biggest heist in the state in recent memory.