One of the coins weighed 14.5 kg and the other a little over 1 kg. The sheer historical value of the mohurs is beyond imagination.
New Delhi: The Indian government could soon launch a hunt to regain two big sized gold coins which were smuggled out of the country some decades ago.
It is reliably learnt that one of the coins has been identified by officers of the Ministry of External Affairs in a museum in Kuwait.
The evidence that the mohur is in Kuwait came to light after a Facebook post by one Aqib Jehangir, who claimed he had seen the mohur. He even translated the writings on the mohur.
The case of these two coins, claim those in the know, is indeed bizarre. One of the coins, described in the government records as mohurs, weighed 14.5 kg and the other a little over 1 kg. The sheer historical and antique value of the mohurs is beyond imagination. The big mohur, which is untraced, is beautifully crafted: it is 21 cm in diameter and the biggest in the world belonging to the Mughal period. The big mohur of solid gold is covered with elaborate inscriptions in Persian and Arabic. It was minted in 1613, in the eighth regal year of the emperor, and is thought to be the only one of its kind.
The smaller mohur, minted in 1693 during Shah Jahan’s reign, is equally ornate. It is also 21 cm in diameter and belongs to the same period. The mohurs, put together, would be worth a little over Rs 1,000 crore, going by the current gold prices and the antique value.
Jahangir’s own autobiography, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri mentions the big mohur. During the reign of Jahangir, mohurs minted by his government grew larger and of high value. The larger ones were handed out to important officials who rendered special military services to the state.
The big mohur was presented by Emperor Aurangzeb to Nawab Ghaziuddin Khan Siddiqui Bahadur, Feroze Jung I, whose son Nizam-ul-Mulk founded the Asaf Jah dynasty.
Over two centuries, the mohurs passed from one generation to the next in the Nizam’s family before coming into the possession of Prince Mukarram Jah, the titular 8th Nizam, heir and custodian of the incredible wealth of the Asif Jahi rulers.
Surprisingly, the mohurs were not to be found from the vaults of the Nizam family.
Top government sources told this reporter that once the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) was tasked by the government to track the two mohurs.
The hunt started after L.P. Sihare, the Director General of the DG National Museum had brought to the notice of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, that the mohurs had been put up for auction by one Harry Winston in Switzerland. Gandhi asked the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian ambassador in Bern to act swiftly and the Swiss authorities were asked to seize the mohurs.
But strangely, the mohurs were withdrawn from the auction and the Swiss authorities told the MEA that as per their records, the mohurs could not be located in Switzerland.
Government records show the mohurs were in the possession of the Nizam of Hyderabad but disappeared from the Nizam’s chest in 1970. Suspicion lay on the then Nizam, Mukarram Jah, who had been selected to ascend in 1954 and formally succeeded in 1967, before he and the other kings and princes were stripped off their title by Mrs Gandhi in 1971.
Jah, 88, now lives in Turkey. There are chances that officials from India will travel to Turkey and meet up with Jah and seek information about the mohurs. It is not an easy task.
Sources say Jah’s multiple marriages also caused complications in the search. Jah first married Princess Esra of Turkey, with whom he had two children, Prince Azmat Ali Khan and Princess Shehkyar. He later married Ms Helen Simmons of Australia, with whom he had one son, Prince Alexander Azam Khan. Azam Khan, claim government sources, lives in London. Jah married again, this time one Manolya Onur, with whom he had a daughter Niloufer. His fourth wife is Jamila Boularous. The couple have a daughter, Zairin Unnisa Begum.
During his marriage to Simmons, Jah had shifted to Australia.
Interestingly, M.L. Wadhawan, then DG CEIB, went to Australia in 1987 and sought assistance from Australian Customs to ascertain the location of the mohurs. Customs officials in Australia interrogated Jah and their long and detailed questions and answers by Jah were sent to the CEIB.
Meanwhile, an informer approached an IRS officer in ED and gave details. Since the assistance of Interpol was necessary, the file was transferred to the CBI in 1988. But Interpol could not provide much help and CBI made no headway.
Finally, CBI requested the CEIB to seek details from the informer in Hyderabad. An officer flew down to interrogate the informer. He gave some startling information about how mohurs were smuggled out of Bombay Airport. The mohurs had been put up for sale through Hyderabad and they were in India till 1988.
Jah, realising that CBI/CEIB officers may search the Falaknuma Palace—home to the Nizams—and discover the mohurs, devised a plan. He handed over the mohurs to a senior functionary in the Maharashtra government. The functionary, in turn, helped smuggle out the mohurs in a special suitcase —not to be checked by the customs—and sent it to the United Kingdom.
The investigations reached a dead end and the file was subsequently closed.
In 2009, the Emir of Kuwait bought one of the mohurs and put it in the museum. This was the one that weighed a little over one kilogram.
Plus being smuggled, India has a rightful claim to the mohur. There are high chances that the CBI will now approach Interpol to ask Kuwait to explain the sequence of purchase. If Kuwait refuses, India will have no option but to approach the International Court of Justice and sue the Emir of Kuwait for illegal possession.
TOP CEIB OFFICIAL SPEAKS
Ajay Agnihotri, who was a top official of the CEIB during 80s and 90s, had investigated the case. He spoke to The Sunday Guardian.
Q: What were the findings of the probe?
A: The probe was initiated by L.P. Sihare who was DG National Museum and later DG NGMA. This was some time in 1983-84. Sihare had a knack of detecting the sale of Indian artefacts. He was also instrumental in stopping the sale of the jewels of Nizam. These jewels included the famous Jacob Diamond, the fifth largest diamond in the world. After he saw the advertisement by Harry Winston offering to sell the gold mohurs sometime in early 1980s, he requested the Prime Minister to intervene and get the Indian embassy in Switzerland to stop the sale. The advertisement was withdrawn. The inquiry was sent to CEIB probably by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) since smuggling of artefacts was covered under the Customs Act 1962. Mr M.L. Wadhawan, DG, CEIB had been head of DRI before his elevation to CEIB. He was then regarded as the finest “financial sleuth” in the country. The CEIB, after investigations referred the matter to CBI since assistance of Interpol would be necessary to locate the mohurs and seize them.
Q: What is the historical importance of these mohurs?
The mohurs are a precious national asset since they are more than 370 years old and one of a kind. No other ruler in India ever minted such large mohurs. As per rumour, the smaller mohur was bought by the Emir of Kuwait for $6.6 million (almost Rs 51 crore) in a private auction. Imagine the worth of the bigger mohur which weighs over 14 kg. The museum of Kuwait is holding a stolen asset and shall be compelled to return lest it faces international opprobrium. The Nataraja statue was returned from the United States after it was discovered that it was stolen and smuggled out of India.
Q: What prompted Jah to smuggle out the coins?
A: The value of the mohurs was an attraction. Mukarram Jah did not admit that he ever smuggled the mohurs out. In his statement to Australian Customs, he feigned ignorance and only admitted that he had heard of the existence of the mohurs. One of the mohurs that weighed a little over 1 kg is now at the Kuwait National Museum. The other is missing for years. As per the informer, who assisted the government, the mohurs were smuggled out in 1988 or thereabouts. Since it was the Nizam’s private property no one knew the location of these valuable treasures.
Q: How close was Wadhawan in cracking the case in Australia?
A: Wadhawan had taken assistance to interrogate Mukarram Jah. The mohurs were never in Australia. Suspicion was that they were stored in the vaults of a Swiss bank. But Jah’s denial and steadfast refusal to even acknowledge their existence made recovery or even identity of the location difficult. He is now in Turkey whose relations with India have never been very good.
Q: Could you talk a little about the informer?
A: I can’t identify the informer, else he and his family may be in danger. But he was closely associated with the Nizam. He must have passed away. In 1989 he was very old.
Q: Can India rightfully claim the coins? Can the case be resurrected?
A: People familiar with the case must be very few. Wadhawan passed away last year. Sihare passed away some six to seven years ago. Even younger officers then in CEIB or CBI must have retired by now. I am sure the government will pursue the return of the mohurs vigorously if all facts are put before the MHA/MEA and PMO.
The only concern is whether the files relating to the mohurs are still available in the offices of the CEIB and CBI. One mohur is in Kuwait, it is a sensitive matter and MEA would have to take a call, in consultation with PMO, on approaching Kuwait to return the stolen mohur now ensconced in their museum.