In October 2015, a middle-aged man was arrested by Sahar Police in a fake passport case while he was travelling to Johannesburg. The man, Riyaz Bhati, had a look-out notice issued against him in 2007 for multiple offences. The fake passport case resurfaced after six years on Wednesday with NCP leader Nawab Malik alleging Bhati was able to procure bail “in two days” due to his connection with former chief minister and now Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis.
Bhati, though, is no stranger to controversy. His criminal record includes cases of forgery, extortion, land grab, and firing. In 2019, he was arrested for forging the signature of a college trustee. More recently, his name appeared as an accused for collecting money from licensed bars allegedly on behalf of former police commissioner Parambir Singh and assistant police inspector Sachin Waze. He is now wanted in that case, and is believed to be absconding. Before that, in 2020, he was detained at the airport for flouting bail conditions and attempting to flee the country.
Meanwhile, the trial in the 2015 passport case is yet to begin. When the Indian Express independently verified the allegation, it came to light that after being placed under arrest on October 28, 2015, Bhati remained in police custody for five days after which he was sent to judicial custody by the magistrate of 22nd Andheri Metropolitan Magistrate court. He was granted bail on November 3, 2015.
The investigating officer, who had registered the case then, denied Malik’s allegation that Bhati had been let off under pressure from the Fadnavis government. He said there was a “fair investigation” in the case and the accused had managed to secure bail from the court.
“I was never pressurised by senior officials or any political leader. The case had come to the police station from the airport authorities. All the documents were already presented to us so there was no way we could manipulate the matter,” the officer said.
Bhati, who is allegedly a close associate of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, was caught at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport around 4 am on October 28, 2015, when he was about to flee to South Africa.
He was caught during the immigration check when officials scanned his passport that was issued to him in 2013 and found that a lookout notice had been issued against him. Bhati was handed over to the Sahar police station for further investigation. It was found that he had two passports. Bhati had used a fake passport, which he had fraudulently obtained from the Jaipur passport office, to travel abroad between 2007 and 2013. “He had applied for passport renewal in 2006 and owing to the number of cases registered against him, Mumbai police refused to issue a no- objection certificate due to which he colluded with an agent in Jaipur and obtained a passport with the help of forged documents,” said an officer. His name in fake passport was Bhati Phoolji and the date of birth changed from 1962 to 1968.
In 2013, he managed to get an original passport, which he has been using since.
The investigator said that a case was subsequently registered under sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating), 465 (forgery), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged electronic record) and 34 (criminal act with a common intention) along with section 12 of Maharashtra Shops and Establishment Act against Bhati; he was placed under arrest during the wee hours of October 28, 2015.
“We tried tracing the agent who helped Bhati in obtaining the fake passport but couldn’t find him. We then submitted a chargesheet on October 21, 2016,” added another police official.
The officials further added that the case is still in the pre-trial stage.
“We were to frame charges on him on October 16, 2020 but due to the pandemic the court was not operational. Charges will be framed against him at the next hearing on November 17,” said a police officer.