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George medal taken off auction
Published on 1 Dec. 2009 11:32 PM IST
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An Indian soldier’s George Cross medal for bravery was taken off the auction block in London on Tuesday pending a police probe into its ownership. “At the moment, the medal is not offered for sale,” said Nimord Dix, managing director of Dix Noonan Webb, Britain’s best-known dealer in coins and medals. “There are ongoing investigations into the question of ownership, and under these circumstances we are unlikely to put the medal up for sale,” he said. The medal, Britain’s highest civilian gallantry decoration, was awarded posthumously to Naik Kirpa Ram of the Frontier Force Rifles in 1946 for sacrificing his life in order to save his Army comrades from harm. But its ownership became disputed after Ram’s impoverished widow Brahmi Devi claimed the medal was stolen from her house in Bharpal village, Himachal Pradesh, in 2002. The London auction house initially dismissed her claim, saying it had affidavits to show she had “disposed of” the medal in 2000, but climbed down on Tuesday after Himachal Pradesh authorities belatedly swung into action. State police, who had closed a case of theft within months of registering it in 2002, last week requested Scotland Yard and Interpol to help investigate the ownership of the medal, which is sought after by collectors. But Dix said Tuesday: “It is far from clear that the case for the medal having been stolen is good.” “In addition, there has been an acknowledgement from the Indian police that the affidavits may not be fake, as they have been claiming. The case continues.” The medal, which was to have been auctioned Wednesday, was expected to have fetched around 20,000 pounds. Brahmi Devi, who received the medal from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell at the age of 13, said she did not sell the medal. But police have confirmed that an affidavit declaring she was handing it over to one Kapil Singh “with my sweet will” in April 2000 does bear her thumb print. The second affidavit, dated June 2000, is from Kapil Singh. It says Singh received the medal from Brahmi Devi as a gift for “services I have provided for the past years” and that he in turn was handing it over to S.L. Jain, whom Dix identified as a Delhi-based dealer. Kapil Singh is now being questioned by police in Punjab. The auction house acquired the medal from a retired Indian Army officer and “a collector of a good number of medals”, Dix said. Naik Kirpa Ram was awarded the medal for sacrificing his life while disposing of a misfired rifle grenade at a camp in Bangalore Sep 12, 1945.

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