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Cruise drug raid case: One officer went rogue, agency looked other way

The observation is a commentary on the way the case was handled by Wankhede, then the NCB’s Mumbai Zonal Director.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary , Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai, New Delhi |
Updated: May 28, 2022 12:08:43 pm
Aryan Khan, Aryan Khan drugs case, Aryan Khan cruise ship drugs case, Aryan Khan news, Indian ExpressSIT note: Wankhede may have ‘tried to implicate’ Aryan Khan. File

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which on Friday dropped all charges against Aryan Khan and five others in the Cordelia Cruise drug bust case, has recorded in an internal note that the investigating team headed by IRS officer Sameer Wankhede may have tried to “somehow implicate” Aryan.

According to sources, the SIT’s internal report says: “It is strange to note that in spite of clear cut denial by Arbaaz (Merchant) — Khan’s friend from whom small amount of charas was seized — regarding involvement of Aryan in procurement or possession of drugs, Investigating Officer started looking at WhatsApp chats of Aryan without even formally seizing his mobile phone. It appears the IO was motivated to somehow implicate Aryan Khan in the drug case.”

The observation is a commentary on the way the case was handled by Wankhede, then the NCB’s Mumbai Zonal Director.

Sources said Wankhede was allowed a free hand to deal with his cases in the way he liked. His immediate superior in Mumbai, Deputy Director General Mutha Ashok Jain, proceeded on leave the day the raids were carried out — on October 2 last year.

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In fact, until the next day, even the NCB headquarters in New Delhi was not aware of the evidence that Wankhede’s team had collected. But Wankhede was already all over the media, alleging a major drugs conspiracy by Aryan.

This in fact, was similar to the way Wankhede had investigated the case against Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty, the girlfriend of Sushant Singh Rajput who died by suicide in 2020, sources said. No drugs were recovered from Rhea, and the case against her was built on WhatsApp chats alone.

The sources said Wankhede’s team had received information about 10 people who were going to a party on the cruise ship on October 2, 2021, and that they would be carrying drugs. These individuals were identified as: Aryan Khan, Karan, Prince Shehrawat, Saumya Singh, Munmun Dhamecha, Mohak Jaiswal, Gaumit Chopra, Nupur Satija, Arbaaz Merchant and Ishmeet Singh.

“It is still unknown how the team identified these people on the cruise just on the basis of names. These are things which can be addressed with better supervision in the initial stage,” an officer privy to the probe said.

Sources said the informer in the case had first approached Mumbai Police, which did not show interest as it found the case to be too small.
Once it became clear that no drugs were found on Aryan and questions were raised on the investigation, a senior officer from Delhi was sent to Mumbai to supervise the case. But Wankhede continued to push the envelope, the sources said. One example was the way an NCB team reached Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow on October 21 last year in an ostensible “raid”.

Sources said Wankhede had sought permission to search the actor’s premises, but was refused. “So he prepared summons for recovery of some documents from Mannat and sent a team inside to serve the same. The media had been informed beforehand about an impending “raid”. It was finally a call from Delhi that stopped the team from going inside Shah Rukh’s house,” an officer said.

There was additional drama on TV after NCP leader Nawab Malik claimed Wankhede was a Muslim who had fraudulently claimed a caste benefit, and that a BJP leader was part of the raids. Wankhede’s family issued a rebuttal on TV. While the political class in Delhi remained silent — except saying the “law will take its own course” — the rightwing ecosystem on social media rallied behind Wankhede.

Sources said Wankhede had even tried to interfere with the probe subsequently by claiming internally that some officers of the SIT were trying to influence witnesses to change their statements.

“When he was asked why he had arrested Aryan Khan when no drugs were found on him, Wankhede said he had found a rolling paper. He had to be reminded then that rolling paper was not a banned item, and that many people used it to roll tobacco,” another officer said.

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When contacted on Friday, Sameer Wankhede declined to comment on the issue. However, an officer linked to the case said that the decision to arrest a person is not taken by an individual officer, but is carried out only after approval by top officers of the organisation.

“The case came up for hearing before multiple courts including Bombay High Court. But no strictures were passed against the officers. Even Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, one of the senior most law officers in the state, argued for Aryan’s remand. Had there been something amiss, wouldn’t he have pointed it out?” the officer said.

On the fact that no blood test was carried out on Aryan, the officer said a blood test is not mandatory under the NDPS Act. On the NCB relying on WhatsApp chats, the officer said: “If we have the statement of a person that he was to consume drugs and have chats to back that, should we not book the person for consumption? Several cases have been made out by multiple agencies in the past on the basis of WhatsApp chats.”

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