Two Italian tourists have duped a leading jeweller in Kerala of Rs 75 lakh by selling him 800 gold-plated copper coins in the guise of gold coins.
The Kerala police are on the lookout for Antonia Mauro and Riso Vinenzo, after the first-ever incident in the state of foreign tourists decamping with booty came to light.
The Italians had come to Kerala early last week and were staying at the Taj Residency in Kochi.
Last Thursday, they walked into Thaliath Jewellery on M G Road and told its owner, George Thaliath, that they had a few gold coins to sell.
Thaliath's assistants tested the purity of the coins and after ascertaining that they were genuine, Thaliath bought them.
The Italians then told Thaliath they had 800 such coins to sell and the jeweller agreed to buy the coins for about Rs 1.2 crore.
The next day, Mauro and Vinenzo drove to Thaliath's residence with a box containing the 'gold' coins. The Italians offered five coins to Thaliath to have their purity checked. Thaliath then paid the duo Rs 75 lakh as advance. The box was put in a locker and its key was given to the Italians with the promise that it would be opened only after Thaliath made the full payment the next day.
Before leaving his house, the Italians gifted Thaliath's mother a rosary, which, they claimed, was personally blessed by Pope John Paul II.
But when the Italians never came back at the appointed time, Thaliath got suspicious. "He opened the lockers and tested all the coins. He found that only the five coins the Italians had offered him from the box were made of gold. All the others were gold-plated copper coins," a police officer involved in the search of the Italians said.
By the time the police verified Thaliath's statement and checked at the Taj Residency, the Italians had checked out.
However, a driver identified the photographs of the tourists and told the police that he had dropped them at the Kochi airport for a Bangalore flight. The Bangalore police have been alerted.
The police fear the two may have already left the country. They suspect the Italians could be part of a gang, as the whole operation was well planned.
Their visas have succeeding serial numbers. While Mauro (passport no: C 071223) holds a visa with the number L 480458, Vinenzo's (passport no: Y 050123) visa number is L 480459.