Murphy's Law: Who Stole the Indian Me-109?

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November 6, 2006: Five years ago, a German Me-109 fighter was discovered, in the storage yard of an Indian college, by an Indian amateur aviation historian. A year later, the Me-109 disappeared, but now it has been found, flying around Europe. No one will admit to owning it, or say anything about how the valuable (worth over a million dollars) aircraft got from India to Europe.

Until 1961, the vintage (it was brought down during the Battle of Britain in 1940, without major damage) aircraft had been given to an Indian prince, in 1941, for raising enough money to equip two fighter squadrons for the Royal Air Force. The Me-109 was displayed at a south Indian college until 1961, when it was moved to another college, and left in a storage yard. There is was discovered in 2001. Word got around. The Indian Air Force found out about it. This was the only Me-109 in India, and considered a national treasure. By law, the Antiquities Act, it is illegal to take vehicles, more than fifty years old, out of the country. The Indian Air Force asked the local government, which, technically, controlled the college storage yard containing the Me-109, and thus "owned" the aircraft, if a trade (for another, but more presentable, antique item) could be arranged. Then, the Indian Air Force would undertake restoration of the aircraft, and display it in a national museum. This would, among other things, honor the Indian pilots who participated in the Battle of Britain.

But before those negotiations were complete, the Me-109 disappeared. Well not exactly disappeared, the college trustees said they had accepted another trade offer from an Indian gentleman (Girish Naidu, a scrap dealer from Bangalore). The air force generals were furious, but the college trustees said the aircraft would be restored and displayed in India. That quieted things down for a few years, until some Indian aviation enthusiasts began to wonder where the Me-109 was. Turns out the aircraft was nowhere to be found. No one knew anything. The college trustees were rather mortified to discover that their trade items (an antique car, bicycle and an antique aircraft that wasn't) were worth about $2,000.

Another investigation commenced, but neither the aircraft, nor Girish Naidu, who had arranged the trade, could be found. Bribery, or simply fast talking and some deception, were suspected. The aircraft had been shipped out of the country in 2002, about the same time the deal was made. Apparently, there was never any intention of keeping the aircraft in India. It also turned out that the trustees of the college that traded away the Me-109 didn't legally own it. The college where the Me-109 had been until 1961 was still the owner of record.

The missing Me-109 was found in Europe, in flying condition, because the Indian aviation buffs, who originally discovered the Me-109, had taken many pictures, including shots of serial numbers on several aircraft components. These serial numbers were not changed during the restoration. European aviation magazines mentioned these serial numbers in stories about eh newly restored Me-109. The European owner of the Me-109 was a shady corporation. No one could find who owned the corporation (which was registered in the Channel Islands, where shady corporations are legal, and a major part of the local economy).

The Indian government has not yet decided what should be done. There w as apparently some bribery and corruption involved, and officials are apparently checking to see who might get hurt if the investigation goes too far. Meanwhile the local police of Gulbarga, are investigating the HKE Society, which controls the college that didn't own, but "sold", the Me-109. There may yet be justice, or maybe not.

 


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