The public in Kerala are not unfamiliar to scams. Frauds of various types were being unearthed at regular intervals. Strangely, despite many losing both money, property, honour and lives after being duped by scamsters many continued to become victims of swindlers. But never before has Keralites heard of the deception attempted by a self-styled antique dealer named Monson Mavunkal who has now been arrested after one of his victims decided to approach the law-enforcers.
Mind-boggling amounts were offered or bandied about by Monson to inveigle his targets. He also boasted about his contacts with big shots to lure or convince people who walked into his trap. Investigations revealed his words and mannerisms were so convincing that they loaned him crores of rupees without demanding any security.
There were still a few who did not take Monson’s words at face value. They who frowned soon received an invite to his high-security residence at Kaloor, Kochi, and Monson opened to them the doors of an ‘antique’ world — a collection of ‘artefacts’ which they never knew ever existed.
Security personnel on duty 24/7, and swanky cars lining up in the porch and front yard — all gave credence to Monson’s claim that he had received in his Delhi bank account an amount of Rs 2,62,600 crore, the proceeds from the sale of artifacts to the royals in the Gulf countries. He requested them to loan him the money to circumvent the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) that prevented him from withdrawing cash from his account.
Mavunkal flaunted his proximity to those who matter — the who’s who in different fields — and offered his guests partnership in his ‘planned’ museum. They fell for it and Mavunkal got the money.
He allegedly conned several people of Rs 10 crore in this manner between June 2007 and November 2020, and the lenders, after failing to get their money back despite repeated attempts, met the chief minister with a complaint. Their latest move landed Monson in Crime Branch custody on Saturday.
Investigators have now found evidence for Monson’s closeness to several prominent personalities, including lead actors, politicians and senior government officials.
The reality-mythology overlap in the ‘antiques’ Monson presented would normally make one suspicious. His presentation and the ambience he had created erased the thin line between fact and fiction so convincingly that many, including the well-educated and well-heeled, believed him.
Mavunkal’s exhibits included two of the 30 silver pieces Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus Christ; a piece of the Holy Shroud; a stone jug which Jesus used to convert water into wine at Cana; the staff (rod) of Moses; Chhatrapati Shivaji’s private copy of Bhagavad Gita; the coronation ring of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb; a 4,500-year-old sculpture; social reformer Sree Narayana Guru’s walking stick; a sculpture of Nandi (sacred bull of Lord Shiva) coated with panchaloha (five-metal alloys of sacred significance); the registration document of Mysore Palace; the throne of the Maharajah of Travancore; spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba’s golden footwear weighing 1.5 kilogram; painitings by Raja Ravi Varma and Leonardo da Vinci; a clay lamp and prayer mat used by Prophet Muhammad; copies of Quran in gold used by Mughal emperors Akbar, Shajahan and Aurangzeb; a part of the nail of St Antony; hair of Mother Theresa; St Alphonsa’s habit; a Picasso painting done in 100 kg gold; emerald weighing 250 kg; and palm-leaf manuscript of Quranic quotes were some of the ‘antiques’ Monson showed to those who were invited to his Kaloor residence!
The complainants said the exhibits made them trust Monson. He even told them that he had in possession a multi-crore chemical used for launching rockets to send their trust sky high.
The Crime Branch probe, so far, has punched holes in Monson’s claims after it was found that his antiques were all fake.
No documents for antiques
Despite having a huge collection of valuable artefacts, Monson did not have any documents proving their age or ownership. When those who had loaned him Rs 10 crore demanded their money back, Monson promised to repay them by selling some of the antiques from his collection.
He still took them for a ride saying he could not go overseas due to a travel ban. Believing him, the creditors tried to find buyers and approached the royals in Qatar and Dubai, The royals, however, demanded documents proving the age and ownership.
When asked, Monson refused to hand over the documents. Instead, he gave them the state police chief’s order for providing security to the valuables.
The Kochi Police had earlier ignored a Home department directive to probe complaints against Monson. The investigation was handed over to the Crime Branch after the local police made no progress. Sensing trouble, Monson approached a court seeking anticipatory bail. The court, which sought the police’s version, was told that there was no plan to arrest the man. The Crime Branch arrested Monson the next day.
Driver gets Rs 2-crore shock
Monson’s driver-cum-mechanic Ajith was recently shocked to learn that transactions to the tune of around Rs 2 crore was made through his account in a private bank. The Nettoor, Kochi resident told investigators that he was unaware of the transactions. Ajith added that he came to know of the transactions after he had re-activated his account which had been dormant for the want of minimum balance.
Investigators were told that though the account was opened using Ajith’s name, the ATM card and cheque books were with Monson. The mobile phone number linked to the account belonged to the accused.
Sensational audio clip
The Crime Branch sleuths have in their possession an audio clip of a telephonic conversation, purportedly between Monson and Anoop, one of the complainants.
“The DGP will visit me at my residence on 11. Anoop need not come then since my house will be under tight security. I will introduce you to the DGP when he visits Thrissur on 15. You arrange food at any of your friend’s house or a hotel. We can save money if you can arrange food at a swanky home. Click photos with him (the DGP), and have a blast uploading the pictures on Facebook. The CM is coming on 22. He said he would visit us too.
It’s huge fun here at home. Police personnel in 12 vehicles are on security duty here. The police commissioner will meet me daily at 7. What’s beyond the State police chief himself checking and ensuring my security? The issues at Delhi are being sorted out. The Rs 200 crore account will be ready either tomorrow or the day after. I have a few teams in Delhi to speak on our behalf (names an MP, a former chief secretary and a young IAS officer).
Whenever I visit Thiruvananthapuram, they offer me a room similar to that of the DGP’s bedroom. Even after all these complaints against me, the ADGP still welcomes me; the DGP who is inaccessible to others, meets me. If there are complaints, why are they not acting against me?”
Monson’s bail application moved before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Ernakulam mentions him as a doctor. Certificates which the Crime Branch had seized are contradictory. While one certificate said he has a degree in MBBS, another one certifies that he has an MD in Dermatology. Yet another introduces him as an MD in Cosmetology. Investigators have also found another document, certifying him as an Ayurvedic doctor.
What a rape survivor claims
Ernakulam South police have registered a case against Monson for threatening a rape survivor. The case was filed based on her complaint that Monson threatened her for lodging an assault complaint against his Cherthala-based friend.
Monson, who invited the young woman to his Kaloor residence on the pretext of discussing the issue, showed her the visuals of the alleged assault and threatened to make them public.
After confiscating the phone, police have sent it for a forensic examination.