Updated: September 29, 2021 08:01 AM GMT
Monson Mavunkal was arrested on criminal charges including fraud on Sept. 26. (Photo: Facebook)
Police in India’s Kerala state are investigating a self-proclaimed antique collector following complaints that he squeezed millions out of several people by claiming to possess antiques including the silver coins Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus Christ, the staff of Moses and the first edition of the Holy Bible.
On Sept. 27, a day after police arrested Monson Mavunkal on criminal charges including fraud, Ernakulam District Court remanded him until Oct. 6. He has been handed over to the state police crime branch to help their investigation.
“It is quite shocking that people still fall prey to such blatant fraud,” said Capuchin Father Dominic Pathiala, a social worker based in the southern state.
Mavunkal, who presented himself as a YouTuber and patron of several charitable organizations, lived in a rented mansion in Kochi, Kerala’s business capital, and popularized his links with top politicians and police through photographs and videos, projecting himself as an antique collector and dermatologist.
A complainant said Mavunkal convinced him with fake documents that he had US$37.4 billion in his bank account from his antique dealings but needed to pay millions in bribes to New Delhi officials to get the money released.
He paid Mavunkal $36,000 in cash, trusting his promise of lucrative returns when the money was released.
I think people fall victim to such fraud as they don’t live in real-life situations and wanted to acquire unreal things to modify their life
Police also say Mavunkal received millions from several others with fake promises of making them partners in his antique business and in an exhibition center he planned in a Gulf country.
In a multinational operation that has been going on for over a decade, Mavunkal impressed his victims with the collection of fake antiques linked to Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad, the Buddha and Sri Krishna.
He also managed to get police protection for his homes in Kerala, claiming threats to the antiques worth billions of dollars. Investigators say the antiques he exhibited to select celebrities he invited to his home were fake, sourced locally from movie sets and local artisans.
The rarities he claimed to possess included two of the 30 silver coins which Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus Christ, a jar which stored water that Jesus turned into wine at the Marriage at Cana and relics of Christian saints in Kerala and Italy.
In 2017, he started taking money from people, but some became suspicious after seeing no progress in his promises and complained to police.
Video clips show Catholic priests and nuns visiting the home of Mavunkal, who is reported to be a Catholic.
“I think people fall victim to such fraud as they don’t live in real-life situations and wanted to acquire unreal things to modify their life,” Father Pathiala told UCA News on Sept. 28.
“People get enough advice almost every day from their childhood to lead life without greed, but still their greed seemed to have trapped them in this kind of situation.
“If anyone wants to achieve great goals in life, it should not be through any short cut like that — you will end up losing even what you have.”
Jose Chriyan, a catechism teacher based in the Christian stronghold of Idukki district, said that “younger generations show a tendency to generate quick money, and they are ready to do doing anything for that.”
“There is no harm in making money and leading a luxurious life, but it should not hurt others,” Chriyan told UCA News on Sept. 28.
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