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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Rhea to Aryan, common link: NCB’s Sameer Wankhede, his ring of informants

During his stint as a Customs officer at Mumbai international airport, among those he had taken action against was Shah Rukh, who was fined Rs 1.5 lakh duty. At the Customs and later the Service Tax Department, he crossed paths with Anurag Kashyap, Vivek Oberoi and Ram Gopal Verma.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: October 10, 2021 8:41:49 pm
Sameer Wankhede, Aryan Khan, Rhea Kapoor, NCB, Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Mumbai, Mumbai news, Indian express, Indian express news, Mumbai latest newsSameer Wankhede In charge Mumbai Zonal Unit, NCB.

TO THOSE who know him, it is no surprise that Sameer Wankhede is at the centre of both the high-profile Rhea Chakraborty allegations of last year and the still-unfolding drug bust case against Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan. The 2008-batch IRS officer, with stints in the NIA and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), before being loaned to the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) as Director, Mumbai Zone, is no stranger to controversy — or celebrities.

During his stint as a Customs officer at Mumbai international airport, among those he had taken action against was Shah Rukh, who was fined Rs 1.5 lakh duty. At the Customs and later the Service Tax Department, he crossed paths with Anurag Kashyap, Vivek Oberoi, Mika Singh and Ram Gopal Verma.

Sources say Wankhede, the son of a police officer, was specifically brought in in the wake of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and the cascading allegations against his girlfriend Chakraborty, due to his work on drug seizures at the DRI.

After Wankhede took over, the inconspicuous NCB office in south Mumbai became the buzzing heart of the city, with celebrities lined up for questioning in the Chakraborty case. Many wondered how media would know precisely when a celebrity would arrive.

Questions were also raised about the NCB’s focus now on cases involving small drug quantities but high-profile accused. As per data provided by the NCB to The Sunday Express, of the 30 cases it registered from September 2020 — when Wankhede took over — to February 2021, in at least 12, the amount seized was “small” — as compared to “intermediate” or “large” seizures.

The NCB, a Central anti-narcotic agency, went after even cases of consumption. Said an officer of the Mumbai Police: “Even our constables hardly do consumption cases.” Prior to Wankhede joining, a majority of the NCB Mumbai Zone operations were related to raiding factories producing mephedrone.

In an interview to The Indian Express in February, Wankhede had said their strategy was to nip drugs at all levels. “Regarding consumers, is consuming legal in the country?… There is Section 27 of the NDPS Act… Anybody violating the Act, we are taking action.”
In the Chakraborty case, there were other question marks too. One of those arrested, Kshitij Prasad, associated with Dharmatic Productions, told the court that Wankhede had told him to implicate his boss Karan Johar, if he wanted to be let off. Wankhede denied these allegations.
Prasad and Chakraborty are currently out on bail.

To be fair to the officer, once the Chakraborty case was behind him, NCB operations helped neutralise several big gangs. One clue of how busy Wankhede has been is just the numbers — the FIR against Aryan and others was the 94th registered by the NCB in Mumbai and Goa (which also comes under the Mumbai Zone) in 2021; against 35 in 2019; 25 in 2018.

In August this year, Wankhede and his team got the Home Minister’s medal for “excellence in investigation”.

Even his bitter critics concede that Wankhede today has one of the most enviable networks of informants and has dealt a major blow to the narcotics network in Mumbai and Goa.

NCP leader Nawab Malik’s son-in-law Sameer Khan was incidentally arrested by the NCB in connection with a narcotics case earlier this year, and got bail last month, after around six months.

Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant says the NCB under Wankhede is “doing the work of the BJP government”.

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