Patna, Aug. 24: An apple a day, err on the road, keeps the cops away. Or at least did.
Police are hunting for Jai Prakash, alias Chotu Tiwary, the kingpin of an inter-state gang involved in the theft of four-wheelers, after nine of the members were arrested on Thursday. The gang that operates in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for at least five years, according to sources, fruit-code their booty — SUVs — as apple and banana among others.
The special police team even recovered four SUVs — two Bolero and Scorpio each — from the criminals. They were alerted by a UP police team that recently visited Patna for investigation on the gang.
An officer, who was part of the special team, told The Telegraph: “The arrest of the nine gang members is a breakthrough in the case. Investigations have revealed they have a big network, comprising at least a 100 men, in the two states. Chotu, a resident of Uttar Pradesh and the gang leader, is evading arrest. During investigations, the police found that the gang members would talk very less on the mobile phones and rather communicate via text messages to evade the cops. They targeted only SUVs but never used to name the brand of the stolen vehicles. They used to name them after fruits during conversations.”
If “apple” meant Bolero with “apple-A” and “apple-X” its different variants, Scorpio was coded “banana”.
Senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj confirmed the modus operandi, but stressed that there was still a long way to go. “This gang has a huge network and has the capability to steal hundreds of cars. Operating for several years, they must have stolen thousands of four-wheelers and then sold them off. The police have come to know some of the code names the gang members would use for the stolen cars — ‘apple (Bolero)’, ‘banana (Scorpio)’ and ‘cozy (Safari)’. According to the different segments of the SUVs, they would again have classifications. For instance, the Bolero Maxi Truck was coded ‘cheela hua apple (peeled apple)’,” said Maharaj.
He added: “The other thing that has become clear is the cars stolen from Uttar Pradesh were sold in the rural areas of Bihar, barring Patna, and those stolen from the state were sent to Uttar Pradesh or Nepal. The gang members would also tamper with the vehicles’ engine and chassis numbers and prepare fake papers to escape the clutches of the police.” Another officer, however, conceded that distinguishing between a stolen and a genuine car was difficult on the roads.
“The police conduct stringent checks regularly but it is hard for the personnel to spot if the engine and chassis number have been tampered with. For that, the suspected vehicle needs to be confiscated and sent to the forensic science laboratory, which does not happen most of the time. But then, the gang did not take the risk of running their parallel market of selling the stolen cars in Patna or any big city. They rather sold the cars stolen from UP in the hinterlands of Bihar, mainly in Bettiah. At least 40 per cent of the cars might have problems but the buyers in most cases do not have a clue that they are using a stolen car. People in the different district transport offices must be involved in the racket,” the officer said.
The gang, SSP Maharaj said, also has its men in several showrooms to get customers to sell the stolen cars in the guise of low and attractive prices. A text message also goes out whenever any such sale is made.