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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Raid on cruise ship: Aryan Khan, seven others to stay in custody till Oct 7; three more held

While the NCB sought his custody for a week, the court gave extension till October 7. Seven others arrested Sunday were also sent to custody till Thursday.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
Updated: October 5, 2021 8:49:23 am
Aryan KhanShah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan being escorted by officials on Sunday (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) was allowed custody of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan till October 7 after it told a magistrate’s court Monday that while the 23-year-old was not found in possession of drugs, they needed his custody to probe evidence “pointing towards international drug trafficking” based on his phone chats.

While the NCB sought his custody for a week, the court gave extension till October 7. Seven others arrested Sunday were also sent to custody till Thursday.

Aryan’s lawyers told the court that the NCB had not produced any evidence to connect him to the alleged drugs seized from a party aboard a cruise ship on Saturday. The NCB claims to have found drugs on the other seven held from the ship, Cordelia.

On Monday, it arrested three more people, including another passenger from the ship, after it returned to Mumbai from its trip.

While the NCB counsel had Sunday sought Aryan’s “reasonable custody” for only two days, on Monday, the senior-most law officer of the Union government in Maharashtra, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appeared in court on behalf of the NCB and argued that “shocking incriminating material” had been seized from the accused’s phone.

“There are links in the form of pictures, chats, etc pointing towards international drug trafficking. There are several suspicious characters whose identities are not known. There are conversations about procuring narcotic drugs in bulk, discussions on modes of payment other than cash or bank transfers. Several code names are used… It is necessary to confront the accused with various persons. There are international transaction linkages, we may need to take inputs from other agencies,” ASG Singh told the court.

The NCB claimed chats from the time Aryan was studying in the US to as recently as July 2021. To the court’s query on what the chats proved, the ASG said they were relevant to find out who the suppliers, financiers were.

Granting extension of custody, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate R M Nerlikar said: “The fact (is) that the co-accused were found in possession of intermediate drugs and these three (Aryan, Arbaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha) were accompanying them. Investigation is of prime importance, the same is useful for prosecution and for the accused to prove their innocence.”

Singh said while no drugs had been seized from Aryan, investigating him was needed “to unearth other aspects like who was the supplier”. The ASG went on to argue that drugs had become common among youngsters, and a “high-profile” person is considered a role model. He said the NCB was also investigating the organisers of the cruise party.

Aryan’s counsel Satish Maneshinde contested that he had not even boarded the ship when the authorities began conducting a check. He said Aryan’s belongings and person were searched and nothing found, and that while “6 gram of charas” were found on Arbaz Merchant, Aryan had no links to it. “He was accompanied by one-two friends. While they were allowed to go, the NCB took Aryan’s phone,” Maneshinde said.

“The NCB may claim that drugs were seized from other accused. But I have no connection with them, they are not my friends, nor can the drug seizure from others be foisted on me,” Maneshinde said on behalf of Aryan. He also said the NCB could not make a serious allegation like international drug trafficking without any corroboration.

Apart from Aryan and Bandra resident Merchant, the NCB had arrested Sunday Delhi-based Munmun Dhamecha, Gurgaon resident Vikrant Chhokar, Ishmeet Singh, make-up artist Gomit Chopra, Nupur Satija and Mohak Jaswal.

The three more arrested Monday included, apart from a passenger from the cruise ship, two alleged drug peddlers. The NCB claimed to have recovered from them mephedrone worth Rs 5 lakh and “intermediate quantity” of MDMA (Ecstasy). The passenger was reportedly found carrying “hydroponic weed”.

Lawyer Taraq Sayed, representing Merchant, said the NCB had seized a “small” quantity of charas from him and linked him and Aryan. “The NCB has not explained how we (Aryan and Merchant) are connected with the others from whom drugs were seized… How am I concerned with recovery of drugs from others, did I supply it, was I supposed to buy it?” Sayed said, adding that Aryan was being made a “scapegoat”.

The court went on to hear arguments regarding the other five accused from whom intermediate quantities of drugs — more than the narcotics linked to Aryan and two others — were seized.

Lawyers Kushal Mor, Sartaj Shaikh, representing some of them, said that while they were also arrested at the same time as the three, the NCB had kept them in illegal custody since Sunday.

Incidentally, after the court granted the NCB the custody of Aryan, Merchant and Dhamecha till October 7, the ASG and NCB zonal director Sameer Wankhede left, not staying around for proceedings regarding the others.

NCB officials told The Indian Express that the ship’s captain had complained about three passengers on board Cordelia, who had created a ruckus and damaged a window pane. The NCB reportedly detained the three, and held one on Monday after discovering weed on him.

The alleged drug peddlers, one of them identified as Shreyas Nair, reportedly supplied the drugs to the passengers. Officials said they had procured the same over the dark web with payment made in bitcoins.

Officials said they planned to interrogate the organiser of the event aboard the cruise ship about why they had given a free pass to Merchant.

“More arrests are likely in the case,” an official said.

Of the total recoveries allegedly made from the ship, the NCB claimed to have seized 6 grams of charas from Merchant (26) and 5 grams of charas from Dhamecha (28) — both categorised as small quantities. From Chhokar (32), the NCB claimed to have seized 5 grams of mephedrone and 10 grams of cocaine, from Ismeet 14 MDMA pills, from Chopra (28) four pills of MDMA and 3 gm of cocaine, and from Satija (29), four pills of MDMA — all “intermediary quantities”. The NCB also claims that Jaswal provided the pills to Satija.

(With inputs from Mohamed Thaver)

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