More than six years after Chandigarh police arrested six people, including two women, for allegedly stealing Le Corbusier heritage furniture from the Arts College, Sector 10, Chandigarh, the Chandigarh District Court acquitted the accused on Saturday .
According to the prosecution, the accused decamped with 15 chairs and a table, all heritage furniture, from the storeroom of the Government College of Arts, Sector 10, Chandigarh, on the night of 18 and 19 January 2016.
The six defendants, Rajesh Kumar, Sakila, Usha alias Sweety, Sunil Kumar, Fakir Chand and Anil Kumar, were acquitted of sections 411 (dishonest possession of stolen property), 120 B (criminal association) (criminal association), 201 (cause of disappearance evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen the offender), by the Puneet Mohinia Court, JMIC (First Class Judicial Magistrate).
Police said the two women, Sweety and Sakila, conducted a reconnaissance of the storage room where the furniture was kept. On the night of January 18, at around 3 a.m., the women broke the locks and entered the storeroom in the college’s basement where the furniture was stored. One of them then called Sunil who then called Anil at 3:30 a.m. because Anil had a car that was used to load the furniture. Anil took his friend Rajesh with him to the spot and loaded the furniture into his vehicle. The accused then had a conversation with Fakir Chand, a drug dealer. The accused then escaped after keeping furniture with Fakir Chand at Sector 25 and others at Sunil. A little more was kept with the women, with the table.
During the trial, the defense attorney, Attorney Rabindra Pandit, argued that the defendants were falsely implicated in the case, alleging that there were discrepancies in the statements of prosecution witnesses. Attorney Pandit said the plaintiff also did not support his own version in court.
After hearing arguments, the court acquitted the defendant of the charges on Saturday. A detailed judgment on the matter has yet to be released.
Acquittal raises concerns
The acquittal of the six defendants in the high-profile 2016 heirloom furniture theft, which took place days before then French President Francois Hollande’s visit to the Government Museum, has raised concerns. So far, at least six FIRs have been filed in relation to the theft, but most of those cases are pending trial. The latest theft of heritage furniture was reported from Panjab University (PU) when 48 heritage chairs were found stolen from the sociology department in November 2020.
Usha aka Sweety, who was acquitted on Saturday, was among five defendants arrested for stealing PU’s heritage furniture in November 2020. That case is still pending trial. Other defendants included a Zirakpur-based carpenter, Sarfraz, and Naresh Mittal, who deal in the sale and purchase of old furniture. During the investigation of at least three cases, the links of some Mumbai-based people came to light, but the police failed to arrest them.
Barrister Ajay Jagga, a member of UT’s Heritage Protection Unit, said: “The acquittal of six defendants is a setback for the administration of UT and they must appeal to a court. superior. The remaining cases should be handed over to the CBI. Sources said the kingpins shipped the stolen items from Chandigarh to other countries. This is why the police failed to give a logical end to the investigation, sources said.
To investigate the 2020 heritage theft case, two teams from the Crime Branch were dispatched to Mumbai but they came back empty handed. Links to Mumbai had also surfaced in the 2016 heritage furniture theft case. The interrogation of defendants Sunil Kumar and Faqir Chand revealed that they were receiving calls from Mumbai. An officer said, “The written judgment of the court’s decision is yet to come. We will first go through judgment and then decide on the next course of action. The first FIR was recorded in 2012. Hundreds of heritage items were recovered from two godowns and an SIT was also constituted. But he failed to draw concrete conclusions.