Updated: October 4, 2021 5:19:55 pm
A MUCH too “properly parked” motorcycle was the first clue. And now, police believe, a mysterious death in the sand dunes of Jaisalmer three years ago was actually a murder with origins in the bike-racing circuit of Bengaluru.
Three years after Asbak Mon T alias Ashfaq Ahmed was found dead, ahead of a prestigious race, the Jaisalmer Police have picked up his team-mates with several national and international wins under their belt — Sanjay Kumar alias Tribal Sanjay and Vishwas S D.
Asbak’s wife Sumera Parvez is also named in the alleged murder conspiracy, and sources in the Jaisalmer police said she is absconding. Police are also looking into the role of a couple of others associated with Asbak’s Angata Racing Team.
The principal rider of the team, Asbak, 35, was found dead on August 18, 2018, two days after he left for a practice run for the India Baja desert race in Jaisalmer. Sanjay, 35, and Vishwas, 40, who had left with him, returned and said Asbak was lost. He was found with injuries, in a sitting position, with his motocross bike standing nearby with his helmet on it.
The fact that the motorcycle was properly parked despite the injuries gave the first clue that it might not be death due to starvation, as reported earlier, police said.
The India Baja is a qualifying rally for the prestigious motocross event ‘The Dakar Challenge’ in South America, held over a 650-km gruelling stretch. The winner at the 2018 India Baja was C S Santhosh, also a rider from Bengaluru.
DSP Bhawani Singh, the investigating officer in the case, said: “One of the mistakes committed by the accused was that after Asbak’s neck was broken, they parked the bike properly on its stand. A medical board said that if cervical vertebrae are fractured, it would result in death or paralysis. If a person can’t move, how can he park the motorcycle (after presumably falling off it)? This confirmed our suspicions that it was murder.” Further, they found semi-digested food in Asbak’s stomach showing he had had something to eat not too long before his death, while the post-mortem attributed the death to external injuries on his neck.
As they probed further, they came to know of Asbak’s “strained ties” with his wife, the DSP said, as well as a fight he had had with Sanjay.
Jaisalmer SP Ajay Singh said the case file was placed before him on July 9 last year, a day after he took over. “The officials said a bike rider had died of hunger and thirst. They sought my permission for closing the case. I was surprised that someone could die of starvation in the 21st century.”
The SP said what struck him in the medical report was that Asbak’s cervical vertebrae were ruptured. “Immediate death from paralysis will take place if this happens. He could in no way have parked his bike. I got to know his bike also had around half-a-litre of petrol, while a check on Google Earth showed there were hamlets nearby. He could have easily gone there if he was starving,” said Ajay Singh.
He added that, moreover, while Asbak’s friends said they were not acquainted with Sumera, call records suggested they were in touch.
Sumera, who came down to Jaisalmer on receiving news of Asbak’s death, gave a statement to police saying Sanjay, Vishwas, and a videographer, Abdul Sabik, had told her he had strayed away from them and got lost. She said she suspected Asbak starved to death, and she did not suspect anyone.
The DSP said Sumera’s statement that he died of starvation was suspicious. “It doesn’t make sense as to how she would know, because at the time of death, she was in Bengaluru.”
Jaisalmer police officials say the case may have slipped under the radar as it coincided with the annual Ramdevra fair, the district’s biggest event, with most of the force deployed for it. Soon after, the 2018 Assembly elections became a priority, and after the results, the government changed and most of the officials privy to the case were transferred.
Asbak’s brother Arshad Mohammed — the family belongs to Kannur in Kerala — said they suspected Sumera from the start. He said they were first informed by a Dubai-based friend of Asbak’s that he had met with an accident and was serious, and that Sanjay had sent a voice message about it. “When we made panic calls to Jaisalmer, we got conflicting versions, with one source saying Asbak was dead and another saying he was in hospital with serious injuries… We could not believe the version Sumera was giving.”
Arshad said another factor that was dubious was a message from Asbak’s phone to a WhatsApp group of riders saying, “I am stuck here and going to end’’. “Later we realised that the place where he was found dead did not have mobile coverage and his phone was missing. Then his phone and Sanjay were both found active in the same area.”
On September 15, 2018, Asbak’s mother Subeda T K petitioned the Jaisalmer police to investigate the role of Sanjay, Vishwas and Sumera. Police suspicions grew when all were evasive. Police eventually interrogated them at length in November 2020, after they were summoned to Rajasthan.
While the initial case was registered under Section 174 of the CrPC which deals with unnatural deaths, a murder case was finally registered in December 2020, naming Sanjay, Vishwas and Sabik. Sumera was charged with conspiracy.
In January this year, the three murder accused sought anticipatory bail claiming they were being falsely implicated. Their plea was dismissed as the matter was still under investigation.
Asbak, who worked with a leading bank in the UAE, frequently came down to Bengaluru for races. Sumera and he had originally met in Bengaluru while both worked in an IT firm, and continued to have a home in the city. The biking logs Asbak posted on travel sites under the name ‘theherculeanrider’ show him as an avid biker who loved long-distance rides on his Royal Enfield bullet, often with Sumera accompanying him.
After his death, Viswas, now an accused in his death, wrote: “A go getter in every sense, (Asbak) brought in international sponsorships, world class bikes and riding gears for team, detail oriented, designed every small / big branding himself, fixed tyres wheels mechanical parts himself, meticulously planned for races 90 days in advance.”
While Vishwas is an IT consultant by profession, fellow accused Sanjay runs a biking resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru where he trains young riders. His profile on his personal website claims him to be a one-time winner of India Baja, among other races, and says, “People call him Tribal Sanjay because of what he is, a wild motorcyclist.”
Raj Kapoor, Director, Northern Motorsport, the company that organises India Baja, said the incident is “extremely shocking for the biking fraternity”. “The accused (Sanjay and Vishwas) are regular participants at biking events and are among the top 10 riders in the country,” said Kapoor.
About the incident, he said Asbak and the others had left for practice that day “in their independent capacity”, without informing the organisers. “The area where they went is restricted. They didn’t have the requisite permission to visit it that day.”
On Asbak’s relationship with the accused, DSP Singh of the Jaisalmer police said: “Sumera and he were having problems for an year before his death, while Asbak and Sanjay had fought over an issue in 2017 during an event, which led to Sanjay leaving the team. A month before the murder, the two had reached a compromise.”
He said they believe the murder had been hatched by then, and the compromise was part of the plot. “Prima facie the motives appear to be strained relationships and monetary transactions,” Singh said.
With SHAJU PHILIP in Thiruvananthapuram
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