Investigators of the Central Bureau of Investigation have found a folder named ‘Dabholkar’ as well as an “incriminating letter” from the laptops of Sanjiv Punalekar, a lawyer arrested last month in connection with the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, the agency told a special court in Pune on Thursday.
In its plea seeking custody of Punalekar, who was in judicial remand, the CBI claimed that in the letter found on his laptops, the lawyer had made some observations about the judge hearing the Nallasopara explosives case. The agency said it needed to interrogate Punalekar over the folder and the letter, as well as about who his “handler” was.
Punalekar and his aide, Sanatan Sanstha seeker Vikram Bhave, were arrested by the CBI in the Dabholkar murder case on May 25. He was in the CBI’s custody till June 4, but the court refused to grant the CBI’s plea seeking further custody and remanded him to judicial custody at Yerwada jail.
He has been accused of advising Sharad Kalaskar, one of the two alleged shooters of Dabholkar, on how to dismantle the firearm used in the murder. According to the CBI, Kalaskar, who is also an accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, had followed the lawyer’s advice and dumped four pistols, including the one used to kill Lankesh, in the Thane creek.
During Thursday’s hearing, CBI’s counsel Prakash Suryawanshi told the court that two laptops had been recovered from Punalekar on May 27. He submitted that the CBI needed the lawyer’s custody to interrogate him about the data retrieved from the laptops.
The CBI stated in its application, “…Sanjiv Punalekar is required to confront with the documents/information recovered from his laptops. These include one incriminating letter from Sanjiv Punalekar mentioning the court proceedings of the Nallasopara explosives case (of ATS, Maharashtra), passing some observations about the judge… It has mentioned efforts being made to rope in 8-10 advocates for the work of Sanstha (Sanatan Sanstha). This letter also mentions about ‘Sadguru’. The CBI has to interrogate the accused… as to who was the person to whom he was reporting, who was his handler, and to know the higher-level person in the organisation, which is exclusively in his knowledge. It is suspected that the higher-level person is based in Goa and therefore, accused Sanjiv Punalekar may be taken to some places, including Goa, to confront with the various persons.”
Opposing the agency’s plea, defence lawyer Virendra Ichalkaranjikar argued that Punalekar had been in CBI’s custody till June 4 and currently, his bail application was being heard by the court. Ichalkaranjikar argued that the CBI was seeking Punalekar’s custody again to thwart his bail plea.
The defence lawyer also argued that as per the law, the CBI was required to explain the reasons behind the delay in the investigation. “The CBI is a big agency. The laptops were seized on May 27. The electronic data can be copied multiple times and checked by many persons at the same time. The CBI also claims that this is a serious investigation. Then why didn’t it investigate the electronic data when the accused was in its custody? The CBI should explain the delay,” he said.
Suryawanshi countered his argument, saying, “It was not the laptop of a student carrying nonsense… these are laptops belonging to a lawyer of a senior Sanstha (Sanatan Sanstha) seeker. So, it takes time for the investigation…Members of the organisation are being probed for four murders (of Narendra Dabholkar, M M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Gauri Lankesh).” The CBI lawyer also presented the case diary on the detailed investigation conducted by the CBI so far.
The agency told the court that its investigation had revealed that in June last year, Kalaskar had visited Punalekar’s chamber in Mumbai, where his assistant Vikram Bhave was also present. “Kalaskar told Punalekar about his role in the murder of Dr Dabholkar. Punalekar told Kalaskar to destroy the firearms used in the murder cases, including the murder of Gauri Lankesh. On July 23, 2018, Kalaskar dismantled four country-made pistols (he took out the barrels and sliders containing firing pins) and threw it from a bridge in the Thane creek…,” CBI told the court.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Special Judge R M Pande remanded Punalekar to CBI’s custody till June 23 for further investigation.
Punalekar was produced before the court on Thursday. Later, the CBI took him into custody after completing the requisite legal procedure.
Dabholkar was shot dead during his morning walk in Pune on August 20, 2013. His alleged shooters, Sharad Kalaskar and Sachin Andure, are both under arrest.