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Mystery death of Gohana heist 'mastermind' adds new twist

Last updated on: November 03, 2014 17:06 IST

The family of Mahipal Banwala, who the police call the mastermind of the Gohana bank heist, refuse to believe that he could have committed suicide. They claim that there is something fishy about his death in his car soon after being questioned and let off by the police in connection with the case. Upasna Pandey reports.

Although the Haryana police claim to have solved the sensational Rs 100 crore bank heist case which took place in the Gohana town of Sonipat, the family of the robbery’s alleged mastermind refuse to believe the cops. The family of Mahipal Banwala, the alleged mastermind who was found dead in his car on October 31, refuse to believe that a strong self-made man like him could never have committed suicide.

The family claims that the house from where the tunnel was dug was abandoned because of a legal dispute and while the police claimed that Mahipal helmed the crime, the family defends him saying that only a mad man would dig a tunnel through his own property as he would be the first one to be questioned in the case.

Mahipal’s family is still trying to understand the chain of events starting from his interrogation by the police, him being let off early on October 31 and the manner in which he was found dead in his car on the Panipat road later in the day.

The Vento car in which Mahipal Banwala was found dead.

“We want the police to conduct a thorough probe into the circumstances of my father’s death. He was a positive person who couldn’t have killed himself,” says Mahipal’s son Rajkumar, who along with his family are in a state of shock and mourning.

The family is not pointing fingers at anyone but insists that Mahipal, who owned the unused building which was used by the robbers in the bank heist, was not a quitter and could not have committed suicide and that the circumstances of his death need to be investigated.

The building near the bank where Mahipal and his family lived.

“My father was picked up for interrogation by the police. He called me from the police station on the morning of October 31 and asked me to pick him up. When I reached the police station I was told that he had been asked to go home unescorted," said Rajkumar.

"My father had a problem in his right arm so he usually avoided driving, but that morning, he drove down on his own. He told the family that the police had let him off as he was innocent. He may have connected with someone over phone or on SMS and then said he needed to go out for some work. At around 4 pm, we were informed by a passerby that he has been found dead in his car on the Panipat road,” said Rajkumar.

The building which was used by robbers to build a tunnel break into the Punjab National Bank locker room.

“The car reeked of a noxious stench. Mahipal was lying dead on the driver’s seat which was reclined and his legs were on the co-passenger seat. His pants were dirty. It was as if he had been put there in the seat, although there were no signs of struggle,” says Mahipal’s cousin Abhimanyu.

“He may have known the robbers as it was routine in his business to interact with different people on a regular basis. But he had to be out of his mind to plan digging up a tunnel from his own property, which was next to the bank without knowing that he would be the first one to be caught for the crime. Clearly, he has been framed by people behind the robbery and his death has put a question mark on his role. The police let him off unescorted after interrogation. If he was the mastermind, why was he let off?” asks Rajkumar.

The family believes that Mahipal may have been distressed by the police investigation and the shame of being accused in the heist but refuse to believe he would have resorted to ending his life.

“On Diwali night, I was out with my father and my family and I asked him if I could put diyas on the unused building which is next to the Punjab National Bank office. He said surely I should do that. I put diyas on the parapet wall of the building. Why would my father ask me to do this if he was aware of all that was happening inside the building?” states Rajkumar.

Mahipal's son Rajkumar Banwala.

Meanwhile, the PNB bank locker owners who have been sitting in dharna outside the bank insist that PNB bank officials should be interrogated.

“We demand that the bank officials should be questioned as it could not be possible to break into the locker room without an insider’s help,” says Krishan Gopal Chinda, one of the locker owners.

The case has generated concern with the Prime Minister’s Office sending the Joint Intelligence Committee chairman RN Ravi, to the break-in site. The police also constituted a Special Investigative Team headed by Deputy Inspector General Vivek Sharma for the case.

Upasna Pandey in New Delhi
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