Updated: March 12, 2021 7:42:53 am
Central to the investigation of the February 25 security scare outside the South Mumbai home of industrialist Mukesh Ambani is a Mahindra Scorpio vehicle. It was found parked a few metres from Antilia, the Ambani home on Carmichael Road. Inside were 20 gelatin sticks and a note addressed to the family, warning worse.
The man to whom the police traced the vehicle had reported it stolen eight days before the Antilia incident. In less than a week, his body is found floating in a creek outside Mumbai.
Police suspect he was murdered.
The vehicle had false number plates, and the chassis and engine number were scratched. With the help of a finance company whose name and number were written on the rear glass of the vehicle, police tracked down its actual registration number – MH02AY 2815. Then they traced it to Mansukh Hiren, the man who had made a police complaint at Vikhroli that the vehicle had been stolen on February 17.
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Cracking the theft of the car could provide investigators with the breakthrough that they need in the other two cases – the incident at Antilia, and Hiren’s alleged murder.
Investigation of the Antilia incident has now been taken over by the NIA; the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) continues to investigate the murder and the vehicle’s theft.
As it has turned out, Hiren was not the owner of the Scorpio. The vehicle was registered at Thane RTO on April 7, 2007 by one Sam Peter Newton, a resident of Thane.
As per Hiren’s statement to the Crime Branch before his death, he had been acquainted with Newton since 2016. Hiren had a car decor business in Thane, and Newton had asked him to fit the vehicle with some accessories. “The bill for the work came to Rs 2.80 lakh and he (Newton) gave me two cheques, drawn on Axis Bank and HDFC Bank. I returned his vehicle, but when I deposited the cheques, both bounced,” Hiren had said.
According to Hiren, he had tried to get his dues out of Newton, but had failed. On April 6, 2018, Hiren met Newton at Viviana Mall in Thane and pressed him for the money. After Newton expressed his inability to pay, Hiren took him to Naupada police station (in Thane).
“At Naupada police station, Newton promised to make the payment in 15 days and till then, he asked me to use the car,” Hiren told police. He then more or less took over the 13-year-old vehicle.
In her statement, Hiren’s wife Vimla has said that Hiren had handed over the vehicle to Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze, who had used it for four months from November 2020 to February 5 this year.
When The Indian Express contacted Newton for a comment, he said he could not speak because the matter was under investigation.
Senior police officials told The Indian Express that Vaze has denied having ever had the vehicle. According to Hiren’s wife, after Vaze returned the vehicle on February 5, it was with her husband for less than 12 days. According to Hiren’s statement, he had left the vehicle by the side of Eastern Express Highway near Vikhroli after it broke down while he was on his way to Mumbai on February 17, and continued the journey by an Ola cab. At or near Crawford Market, Hiren had met with a friend, Pawan Ostwal, and then gone to Opera House. Later, he had met Ostwal again near Masjid Bunder, and the men had gone back to Thane together.
At 12 noon on February 18, according to Hiren’s statement, he went to retrieve his vehicle, but found it was missing. He asked traffic police personnel there, and then went to Vikhroli police station and lodged a case of theft.
An official from the Vikhroli police said a case under IPC Section 379 (theft) was registered, in which Hiren mentioned that the car belonged to his friend Dr Sam Newton.
Vimla told police that they had seen the vehicle on TV on the evening it was found, but had failed to recognise it because the registration number was different.
The ATS tracked the vehicle through Wadhwa Motors Cars & Finance, the company whose name and telephone number was on it. Investigators got to Newton, and then showed up at Hiren’s home at Thane’s Ambedkar Road at 11pm on February 25. Hiren and his son Lucky identified the vehicle through its seat covers and a Ganesha idol, as well as the finance company’s name on it.
However, two weeks after finding out details about the car, police are yet to solve the key puzzle: who stole the vehicle from Vikhroli, where Hiren left it on February 17?
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