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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Narcotics Bureau admits no evidence: Aryan Khan cleared

Spotlight falls on Sameer Wankhede: NCB chief admits probe had ‘shortcomings’, Centre recommends action

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary , Sadaf Modak , Jayprakash S Naidu | Mumbai, New Delhi |
Updated: May 28, 2022 1:09:11 am
Aryan Khan arrives at a court in Mumbai in connection with the drugs case. (Express Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar, File)

THE NARCOTICS Control Bureau (NCB) has dropped Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, and five others from its chargesheet filed on Friday in the Mumbai cruise raid case with officials pointing to “lack of sufficient evidence” and “shortcomings” in the probe — from no video of searches, dodgy witnesses and improper seizure of phones to no medical test for those apprehended.

Aryan and 19 others were arrested by the NCB’s Mumbai zonal unit in October last year on charges that they were all “intrinsically connected” after several of them were rounded up by a team led by the central agency’s zonal director Sameer Wankhede during a raid on a docked cruise ship.

The NCB had arrested Aryan on the basis of chats claimed to have been found on a phone seized from him. Following the raid on October 2, Aryan was formally arrested the next day and granted bail on October 29 — after he had spent over three weeks in jail.

On Friday, the NCB said in a statement: “SIT (Special Investigation Team) carried out its investigation in an objective manner. The touchstone of the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt has been applied. Based on the investigation carried out by SIT, a complaint against 14 persons under various sections of NDPS Act is being filed. Complaint against rest six persons is not being filed due to lack of sufficient evidence.”

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Speaking to reporters, NCB Director-General S N Pradhan confirmed that the names of Aryan and five others were not included in the 6,000-page chargesheet filed in a Mumbai court. “There were shortcomings in the investigations. There was no corroborative physical evidence to support the allegations,” he said.

Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the Government has recommended action against Wankhede for “shoddy investigation” in the case. Action has also been initiated in connection with a separate allegation linking him to a fake caste certificate, sources said.

Detailing the agency’s findings in the cruise raid case, SIT chief and NCB Deputy Director-General (Operations) Sanjay Singh said: “There was no video recording of the searches done by the investigating team. Most of the people were arrested on the basis of confessions. No medical test was done on anyone to prove whether they consumed drugs.”

Singh said: “A basic premise was given that Aryan’s friend Arbaaz Merchant (who was also arrested) had the drugs. But Arbaaz never said he had brought it for Aryan, nor was there any evidence to prove the same. In fact, Aryan had told Arbaaz beforehand not to carry any drugs to the party.”

Apart from Aryan, the names of Avin Sahu, Gopal Ji Anand, Sameer Sehgal, Bhaskar Arora and Manav Singhal have been dropped in the chargesheet. Anand, Sehgal, Arora and Singhal were employees of Caneplus Trading, the company that organised the cruise.

According to SIT chief Singh, even the legal requirement of having “panch” or independent witnesses during the search was not fulfilled properly. “One of the panch witnesses, Prabhakar Sail (who died recently), told us that he was not present during the search and was made to sign blank papers by Wankhede’s team. Two witnesses didn’t turn up during the investigation,” Singh said.

On the purported WhatsApp chats cited by Wankhede’s team to allege an “international conspiracy”, Singh said phones were seized and chats opened without following legal procedures. “We looked at the chats and no international conspiracy was found,” he said.

According to Singh, Wankhede had built a “blanket case”. “All of them were booked under the same charges, which was not legally tenable. We have divided the accused persons in different groups. All the accused persons are not part of the same group. They are not connected. We have divided them into six-seven sub-groups,” he said.

The SIT chief also gave organisers of the cruise party and owners of the ship a clean chit. “We have taken into account the terms and agreements that the organisers signed. We have not found anything that makes them responsible for frisking, checking and ensuring that people boarding the cruise do not consume drugs. The NCB looked at the contract of Cordelia (the cruise company). Their responsibility was to organise the show,” Singh said.

On October 2 last year, the NCB intercepted Aryan, Arbaaz and several others at the International Port Terminal, and on the ship. The NCB claimed it was relying on “voluntary statements” given by some of the accused to show they had consumed contraband drugs.

The statements were later retracted. And within a month of the raid, the case was transferred to an SIT. In March, the SIT sought an extension to file the chargesheet, and was granted 60 days ending May 30.

The case had also triggered a long-running spat between Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik and Wankhede over allegations that the NCB’s action was an alleged attempt at extortion — a charge that the official repeatedly denied. On Friday, the ruling coalition in Maharashtra slammed Wankhede and the NCB for “framing” Aryan in the case.

Malik is currently in custody facing an unrelated case of alleged money laundering filed by the Enforcement Directorate. A verified Twitter handle, which described itself as the “official account of the office” of Malik, tweeted: “Now that Aryan Khan and five others get a clean chit, will NCB take action against Sameer Wankhede, his team and the private army? Or will it shield its culprits?’’

NCP spokesperson Clyde Crasto said: “If Aryan Khan was clean, why was he tainted, what was the motive, who will be held responsible for the trauma this young man suffered, many questions arise.”

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Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe said: “Aryan Khan was kept in custody even though no drugs were found in his possession. Now Aryan Khan’s name is not even in the NCB chargesheet. NCB official Sameer Wankhede has worked to discredit Mumbai and Maharashtra along with Bollywood.”

Shiv Sena’s Raut said: “An attempt to destroy the life of a young man was done for the sake of publicity and due to political pressure. To have such an officer (Sameer Wankhede) in any department is dangerous for the government and the country.’’

However, the top leadership of the BJP in Maharashtra refrained from commenting on the clean chit for Aryan. Keshav Upadhya, the party’s chief spokesperson in the state, said: “The BJP has taken a uniform stand on the matter… The BJP has been consistent in stating all are equal before law. And the law will take its own course.”

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