The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Vadodara police, formed to probe the alleged case of AFMI Charitable Trusts’ “illegal funding of Islamic activities”, including the construction of mosques and legal aid to riot accused and anti-CAA protesters, Sunday, began questioning the two accused — Salahuddin Sheikh and Mohammad Umar Gautam.
Police said that the two are being interrogated separately. Following a post-midnight hearing — a first for a Vadodara court, the Vadodara city police was granted seven days custody of the two accused till October 23.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) DS Chauhan, who is overseeing the SIT probe, told this newspaper that the police took the two into custody at around 2.30 am Sunday after the court considered the 19-point remand application filed by the Vadodara police.
Among the grounds for the remand, the police told the court that an investigation is needed into the connections of the accused with people associated with certain prohibited organisations, in addition to the siphoning off of foreign funds for “Islamic activities” as well as hawala transactions.
The police will also investigate links of the accused in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, where they have allegedly funded the construction of over 100 mosques.
Chauhan told this newspaper, “While Salahuddin is originally from Vadodara, Umar Gautam is from Delhi and he has said that his originally Rajput family converted to Islam in 1984, while he was in college. We are also probing their connection with Abdullah Fefdawala of Nabipur in Bharuch, who set up the Majlis-e-Al-Fala Trust that transferred Rs 2.06 crore during the period under investigation.”
According to Chauhan, Fefda-wala, a businessman, moved out of Nabipur to the United Kingdom and the police have come across a video of him delivering a “hate speech”. Chauhan said, “The accused have close connections with Fefdawala and the money trail is incriminating.” The SIT has also sent summons to Fefdawala at his Nabipur and UK residences.
Chauhan also added that two others, including Mustafa Thanawala, have also been issued summons to remain present before the SIT by October 21.
Police said that the SIT has also studied the questions posed to the two accused by the UP ATS while they were in their custody since July, especially related to the part of the religious conversions allegedly by the Da’wah Centre run by Umar Gautam. “On some questions, the accused are cooperating and on some, they are not… We have also recorded statements of some more persons, which will be used to question them,” Chauhan said.
Among the points mentioned in the remand application is also a specific probe into the alleged meetings held in Bharuch to “plan anti- CAA protests”. Chauhan said, “We had put 19 points before the court in our remand application, which includes the accused are involved in serious offences… We will also probe the financial transaction data that the accused have said they have stored on a hard disk.”
Officials added that a probe would also be made to ascertain if Gautam and Sheikh have links with other Da’wah centres, across the globe and Islamic speakers like Zakir Naik. The AFMI trusts’ links in Kashmir are also under the scanner.
On Saturday, the Vadodara court took Salahuddin Sheikh, managing trustee of AFMI Charitable Trust, and Umar Gautam of the Islamic Da’wah Centre in Delhi into judicial custody from Lucknow police.
According to Vadodara police, 14 foreign trusts deposited about Rs 19 crore into the account of AFMI trust since 2017. The money has been siphoned off from the FCRA account of the trust for allegedly funding Gautam’s Islamic Da’wah Center and Fatima Charitable Trust with Rs 10 crore in four years. According to sources, AFMI received the funds from six UK-based Islamic trusts, run by the people of Gujarati-origin.
These trusts include USA-based Gujarati Muslim Association, A Kareem Pathan, Ankur H Shah and Minnati Shah, Y Mam-dani Charitable Foundation, Retail Global Fashion, Human Concern International, Abdul Sattar I Saika, and UK-based Ismail Ibrahim Kadujmar, Excel, Majlis Al-Fala Trust, Firdaus Foundation, Bacchon Ka Ghar and Australia-based MYL Limbada.