The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Mumbai Police on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it has closed preliminary enquiry (PE) against businessman Jitendra Navlani, a builder and an owner of a bar in south Mumbai, who had challenged the proceedings pertaining to his alleged connection with extortion by a few Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials.
A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice N R Borkar was informed by Chief Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai on instructions that a probe by SIT in a case against Navlani has been closed.
The Mumbai Police had formed an SIT under instructions from former Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Pandey when the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government was in power. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut had alleged that a few BJP leaders like Kirit Somaiya were close to Navlani.
Pandey, who retired on June 30, was replaced by Vivek Phansalkar as Mumbai Police Commissioner. The submission were made in the court after the Eknath Shinde-led government along with the BJP replaced the MVA government in the state.
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As per a July 5 communication by the investigating officer (IO) to the public prosecutor, SIT had interrogated directors of various companies as witnesses and their detailed statements were recorded. “In the said case, the SIT did not find any truth in allegations made by the complainant pertaining to extortion and cheating and therefore, the PE has been closed with the approval of Mumbai Police Commissioner,” a communication by Additional Commissioner of Crime Branch S Viresh Prabhu read.
The bench took SIT’s submission on record, noted that nothing remained in the matter and disposed of the writ plea by Navlani that challenged the PE.
Raut had earlier this year alleged that Navlani along with three other persons had “extorted Rs 300 crore from Mumbai’s 70 top builders on behalf of Enforcement Directorate officials”, adding the racket was being run in connivance with certain leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had also alleged that ED officials were buying properties in foreign countries and funding BJP candidates with the “extorted money”.
Navlani had apprehended that the PE would culminate in FIR against him and moved a writ plea in HC against SIT proceedings calling them “arbitrary, illegal.”
The Mumbai Police SIT, on April 8, initiated PE into the allegations of extortion made against some ED officials and Navlani. The inquiry was based on an eight-page letter written by Sena’s Arvind Bhosle addressed to Mumbai Police commissioner and titled ‘extortion/cheating/criminal conspiracy by Jitendra Navlani and others’.
In the letter, he mentioned seven companies which he alleged were held/closely controlled by Navlani who “is one of the conduits of Enforcement Directorate, Western Region”.
On April 27, the High Court was informed by Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda for Navlani that its another bench had quashed an FIR registered against Navlani in 2019 filed for allegedly obstructing police inspector Anup Dange from performing his duty.
Navlani had reportedly cited his connections with Param Bir Singh, the then director general of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), to prevent Dange from taking action after the businessman’s bar in south Mumbai was found to be operating beyond permissible hours.
Ponda added that SIT for extortion “is a complete misuse of legal provision and witch hunt by the investigating agency against Navlani…”
Navlani added that the PE is a result of “politically connected matter” between the then ruling party and former Mumbai CP Singh, who “exposed shallow and illegal dealings of persons in power, as a result of which there has been shaking up in the entire state.”
The court had then asked the state to inform it about an outcome of enquiry by June 20. On June 22, the court extended the interim relief from coercive steps till July 12 to ED officials and Navlani in the central agency’s plea against FIR registered by Maharashtra Police against Navlani and others in extortion and corruption cases.
The ACB, in its June 14 affidavit in reply filed against ED’s plea, had said, “Substance has been found in allegations made by Raut in his complaint and prima facie commission of cognizable offence by Navlani is disclosed…” The IO had added that since no ED official is named as an accused in the FIR, a plea filed by the agency is not maintainable, is premature and misconceived.
HC will hear ED’s plea against ACB probe on July 20.
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