Investigation by Pune rural police,following the arrest of red sandalwood smuggling kingpin Deepak Zare,has revealed that Local Crime Branch (LCB) constables were in touch with him and had allegedly connived with his gang to carry out the crime.
Police investigation revealed that the constables helped the gang,who had stashed the wood in Chakan,gain safe passage through Pune.
When a raid was carried out on a godown at Waki Budruk village by Chakan police on January 25,huge stashes of red sandalwood,worth more than Rs 2 crore,were seized. But,the police had not been able to find the kingpin,who as per information had managed to escape a couple of days before the raid.
An inquiry,conducted by the senior officers of Pune rural police,revealed that an inspector with the Pune rural police,Nitinkumar Gokawe,who then headed the LCB,and his team had allegedly been involved in striking a deal with the smugglers and that he had used his team to safely escort them. As three constables from Gokawes team have already been suspended,senior police officers have said that Zares arrest will corroborate the officers actual involvement.
Interrogation of Zare and the probe followed by it revealed that the suspended constables from the LCB were in touch with Zare and his gang members, an officer with Pune rural police said. We suspect that it is through these calls that primary talks to strike a deal was held. This confirms the role of Gokawes team in the conspiracy. We are now probing Gokawes own role in the conspiracy.
It may be recalled that constables Shrikant Mali,Pappu Hinge and Vikram Pashankar from the LCB have already been suspended,while Gokawe has been transferred to traffic branch.
Investigating officer B R Patil,deputy superintendent of police said,Zare has been arrested from Navi Mumbai. It now well known that he is one of the important smugglers of valuable red sandalwood and has also been operating from a port in Mumbai.
Police said that from these ports,wood is smuggled mostly to South East Asian countries.
An inquiry by ASP Vijaykumar Magar,who is also the district vigilance officer,had revealed that two days before the raid by Chakan police,the local crime branch (LCB) had received information about the whereabouts of the sandalwood stashes. A team went to the go-down and demanded Rs 1 crore from the smugglers. Negotiations with racketeers were made on phone and the deal was finalised at Rs 60 lakh,of which Rs 15 lakh was promised as first installment. LCB head Nitinkumar Gokawe was present during these deals and was fully aware of what was happening. The LCB team ensured safe passage to the smugglers and some of the goods.
Police are also probing a possible involvement of a former a real estate developer from Mumbai,who is now reportedly into smuggling,sources said.
While investigating into why the smugglers chose the go-downs in Chakan to stash their loot,it was found that the smuggled wood originated from the Kerala-Karanataka border and is routed through some cities in South India to Mumbai to be smuggled out.
It is also known that there are a large number of farmers and traders in this area who have built go-downs to store grains or other objects. So the area provided a safe haven for smugglers. Chakan is an area where police presence and their overall movement is less compared to other highways,but is still well connected to Mumbai.