Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIII No. 5, June 16-30, 2023

A ‘counterfeit’ conspiracy

-- by V.L. Parthasarathy, D.S.P. C.B. C.I.D., Madras

The following article was published in the Tamil Nadu Police Journal, a publication that was brought out in fits and starts by the Madras and later Tamil Nadu Police from the 1950s to the 1980s. This article appeared in a 1974 issue.

For a self-styled cine-artist blackberrying in the scrub at the outskirts of movie-land to turn a film-producer, it is reaching for a fruit in a dense dump of bushes. Yet, it was what Natesan hoded for though with a calamitous result.

A man of moderate talents and limited resources K.P. Natesan alias Ponnappan of Macdonald Choultry, Salem, gravitated to the metropolitan City of Madras some years back and ever since was seen knocking about the corridors of film world. It is wondered whether he acted in any film at all and if he did, the film saw the light of the day or more properly the arc-light of the projector. But, Natesan had his own queer ideas. He thought paradise could be built in a day even as it is done inside the studios! At the time of this episode, he was deeply obsessed with the idea of entering into film production, a Periclean project, indeed. But, Natesan was mad as a March hare and he met his whilom friend, Veerasamy.

Veerasamy Iyer of Nagapattinam is an elderly peacock. Quick witted and glib tongued, he possessed a surfeit of talents and was currently a finance broker, a euphemistic title covering myriad transactions, though not all of them illicit. To him, Natesan turned for financial assistance in his new venture. Veerasamy, of course, talked a lot of cock about film production and promised to help him.

Illayakanni was the ambitious production of Narayanan and Partners of Metro Film. They started the film with a loan from Ramanathan Chettiar, a businessman of Karaikudi, but it had to be stopped abruptly after running to some 12,000 feet for want of finance. Four lakhs had gone down the drain even before the characters could begin to squeak on the celluloid ! Not unnaturally, Ramanathan Chettiar was on the pin for a financier who could either complete the film or purchase it outright – box, film and projector. He approached Veerasamy, the versatile broker. The offer came in very handy for Veerasamy who earlier was found frothing on the subject to Natesan. Veerasamy conveyed this information to Natesan who readily fell in for the deal almost with Pavlov’s reflex. Obviously, Natesan had determined to live the refrigerated elegance of a film-producer.

A few days later Natesan along with Veerasamy went to North Madras and met his friend Thomas Omman alias Babu, a Contractor at Royapuram. All the three luxuriated for a while on film production and eventually decided to have a ‘dekko’ of Illayakanni. To Veerasamy fell the task of arranging the preview of the film. Veerasamy took his friend and car broker Natarajan and they met Ramanathan Chettiar at Dwaraka Lodge at Egmore where the latter was staying. Natesan also joined them as pre-arranged. The victorian pruderies over, the talk centred round the film and Ramanathan Chettiar agreed to screen the film before concluding the deal. Natesan met Thomas Omman and took a loan of Rs.200/- to arrange for screening the film. A couple of days later, the friends saw the film Illayakanni in one of the mini-theatres, but Natesan apparently was not satisfied and the proposal fell though.

A few days later Natesan met Veerasamy and Natarajan and the conversation invariably led to film production. Natesan had by then clung to the idea of film production as a swimmer to par. “If sufficient funds could not be raised”, he harangued to friends, “they could at least go in for counterfeit notes”. The friends readily agreed to start a production of their own expecting to be bankrolled by such spurious currencies. They mooted this proposal to Thomas Omman who showed much enthusiasm and offered to join in the venture. Probably, his ideas were in the oven a little longer than theirs. Well, it is was sailing pretty close to the wind, but the friends did not seem to mind. After all, not every engine wants to run along narrow lines !

After an hour of olive talk, Natesan and his cohorts agreed to visit Nagercoil at the instance of Veerasamy to explore the possibility of securing counterfeit notes or else print them. From then on, Veerasamy became ‘eminence grise’ of this ill-fated scheme.

On 21-9-1965 Natesan, Veerasamy and Natarajan left on their maiden tour of Nagercoil. At Nagercoil, they checked in at the Pioneer Nellayappar Lodge, Veerasamy booking a room under ‘nom de guerre’ C.R. Rajan. Veerasamy got in touch with Ponnappan of Vadasery and introduced him to his friends. Ponnappan was asked to fetch counterfeit currency notes but he had no idea as to where to find them. He was paid Rs.50/- for his expense. As Ponnappan did not turn up, Veerasamy sent a telegram to Ibrahim of Vellakadavu. Ibrahim alias Mohammed Kannu duly put in his appearance and when apprised of their mission readily agreed to secure the counterfeit notes for them. He was paid Rs.50/- and they agreed to meet at Quilon.

The following day, Natesan and his friends went to Trivandrum, stayed for a while in Kumar Lodge and then taxied to Quilon. At Quilon, they bedded down in Neela Hotel, Veerasamy giving his name this time as ‘R.N. Rajan’. Natesan then returned to Trivandrum to meet Thomas Omman. In his absence Ibrahim came to Quilon along with Pothan alias Pothajan and waited for the return of Natesan. Natesan turned up a day after when Ibrahim gave out that Raghava Pillai, Manager of a Paper Mill at Punalur, was in possession of 2-rupee blocks. The friends agreed to meet Raghava Pillai at Trivandrum. Natesan and friends thereafter returned to Trivandrum where they holed in St. Xavier Lodge Annexe, with Veerasamy taking a room under the pseudonym S.M. Rajan.

Pothan alias Pothajan turned up the next day and Natesan and others immediately left for Punalur. At Punalur, they met Raghava Pillai who showed them 6 blocks of unmounted 2-rupee currency. The sight of 2-rupee blocks would appear to have transported Natesan and his cohorts into cataleptic frenzy. After some haggling over the price. Natesan gave Rs.1,200/- out of Rs.2,000/- he received from Thomas Omman, took charge of the blocks and the friends then returned to Madras. To them, the trip appeared to be both rewarding and smooth as a glass.

In October, the same year, Natesan rented a house at Kesavaperumal-puram and started a concern “K.P.M. Productions” but it was only a ‘front’ for their nefarious activity. Natesan was still in quest of money for his venture and accompanied by his friends Thomas Omman, Veerasamy and Natarajan went on a roving expendition to Nagore, Karaikkal, Mayuram and Cuddalore in the hope of raising funds. They contacted a number of financiers but they only seemed to be going round and round the mulberry tree accomplishing nothing. All their efforts proved futile and they became much disillusioned in the end like the Kings of Israel.

About this time, Natesan picked up the acquaintance of Ramadoss, owner of a press at Saidapet, who undertook to print counterfeit notes. Soon, Natesan was joined by his friends Thomas Omman, Natrajan and Veerasamy flapping round like old hens keen on having a pick. They visited the press on 23.1.1966 and handed over the blocks. Ramadoss warned them not to frequent the press lest it should create suspicion and promised to get in touch with Natesan when the notes were ready. Five days later, Ibrahim brought a bundle of paper and left in with Ramadoss. At this stage Ramadoss sought the help of Abdul Khader to find a financier for the project. In the meanwhile, he took ‘proofs’ of 2-rupee notes with the assistance of machineman, Lakshmanan. Two other friends Balakrishnan and Dr. Sundararajan of Madurai frequented the press of Ramadoss and were seen engrossed in conversation with him allegedly over the printing of the counterfeit notes.

Abdul Khader took the proofs of 2-rupee notes, showed them to Gavarchand, a Marwari businessman, and asked him for financial help. Gavarchand made a pretence of visiting the press on this score and instead of lending the promised sum whistled up the police. Surely, amateurs like Natesan and his cohorts sholdnot have embarked on tis perilous venture which is the sole prerogative of the Government. Deep waters are for those who can swim.

On the information furnished by Gavarchand, a team of City Police Officers headed by a former Assistant Commissioner raided the press on 22.2.1966 night, took Ramadoss, the proprietor, into custody and seized the 2 rupee blocks. Abdul Khader who was present at the press was also arrested and two ‘proofs’ of 2-rupee currency were seized from him. The City Police registered a case in B2 Law College Police Station Cr.No.143/66 under Section 489 I.P.C. and proceeded with the arrests of Balakrishnan and Lakshmanan on 27.2.1966. Another accused Dr. Sundararajan was arrested by the Madurai Police on the information passed on to the concerned by the Assistant Commissioner.

The Tamilandu Crime Branch, C.I.D., entrusted with the further investigation, took into custody Natesan on 19.9.1966 at I.C.F. Colony, Ayyanarvaram, where he went into hiding and also Pothan alias Pothajan and Raghavan Nair on 29.9.1966 at Punalur (Kerala). Some eight months later Thomas Omman was arrested on 12.5.1967 and another five months were to pass before Veerasamy could be located and taken into custody on 15.10.1967. Accused Ramadoss, Thomas Omman and Veerasamy came up with judicial confessions before the Magistrate. Veerasamy amongst them was tendered pardon on 20.11.1967 and with him as an approver, the case against others was charged on 12.12.1967. Natarajan was treated as a witness, certainly an unwise step as would be seen later, Mohammed Khannu who eluded the Police all these months was finally arrested on 1.6.1968.

The case for prosecution rested mainly on the evidence of the approver, witness Natarajan and association of these accused in hotels, lodges and house rented by Natesan as spoken to by witnesses.

At the end of the preliminary enquiry, the Second Presidency Magistrate, George Town, discharged accused Lakshmanan, Dr. Sundararajan and and Balan alias Balakrishnan under Section 207(A) Cr.P.C. (Old code) on 13.3.1969 and committed the rest to take their trail at the Sessions. A revision pettion was preferred at the High Court by the Public Prosecutor on a move from the Police against the order of discharge followed by an application to stay the proceedings before the Sessions Judge where the case was to be tried. Three years passed before the High Court gave its finding directing the committal court to implead the three accused in the order. The II Presidency Magistrate, George Town, duly complied with the order and recommitted the case to the Sessions on 19.6.1972.

The trial at the Sessions actually opened on 9.8.1973 against only 9 accused as Raghavan Nair died in the meanwhile on 27.3.1973. When the trial was in progress, it was found that the sheets of paper containing ‘proofs’ of 2 rupee currency notes had not reached the Sessions court. They were not also traceable in the records at the Committal Court. In the end, the learned Judge convicted and sentenced V.K.Ramadoss alone to one year R.I. under Section 489 (D) I.P.C. and acquitted the rest in his S.C. 6/69 dated 19.10.1973.

In the course of a lengthy judgment, the learned Judge came up with several interesting observations. He held that witness Natarajan was ‘admittedly an active and willing participant in the crime’ and that his evidence should necessarily be corroborated in material particulars. For a man who had played a major role in this despicable venture the proper place ought to have been the dock. As would be seen Natarajan followed Veerasamy and others throughtout their perambulations with the assiduity of a terrier on the scent. And, with the approver Veerasamy himself requiring corroboration under law, the evidence of these two did not, naturally, cut much ice with the Judge. In fact, both of them had a murky past which in a curious way turned up while tendering evidence compelling the attention – not at all a pleasant one – of the Court. As regards the association of these accused at the hotels or lodges or even in the house at Kesavaperumalpuram, the Court was of the opinion that no incriminating circumstance could be inferred of their illegal activity in the absence of recovery of articles or implements. It meant that the charge of conspiracy could not be sustained. No doubt two other accused had given judicial confessions but they had retracted from their statements before the Court.

The Judge held in their case that a retracted confession could not be made solely the basis of conviction unless corroborated which of course was lacking. As regards the missing of the ‘proofs’ from the Court records, their existence was sought to be proved by the evidence of the Assistant Commissioner under Section 288 Cr.P.C. (old code) but the Judge would have none of it. In the end, the only evidence the Court persuaded itself to accept was the recovery of 2-rupee blocks from accused Ramadoss whom it rightly convicted but awarded a lenient sentence of one year in view of the time lag for which the prosecution certainly was not be blamed.

This case amply bears out the truth of the old adage ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. And, the delay in its wake took a heavy toll for when the case ultimately came up for hearing, five of the material witness turned hostile, three died and one other could not be traced (not to speak of the death of one of the accused) thus enabling the accused excepting the lone one to escape retribution. Perhaps, the pedestrian fashion in which the investigation was done by the Inspector had also an enervating effect on the outcome of the case.

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