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Sachin Hindurao Waze: The man at the centre of Mumbai’s world of police, politics and patronage

A bomb scare outside Ambani’s home. A ‘stolen’ vehicle. A body found in a creek. Cut to the chase, a junior police officer is arrested, the chief is shunted out who then accuses the state Home Minister of extortion. The Indian Express on Mumbai's world of police, politics and patronage, and the man now at the centre of it all — Sachin Hindurao Waze.

Written by Mohamed Thaver , Sagar Rajput , Sadaf Modak |
Updated: March 21, 2021 7:50:29 pm
Sachin WazeSachin Waze (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

“Unko bhi jawaab doonga main… Main Sachin Waze hoon… (I will answer him too, I am Sachin Waze).”

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On March 5, after BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis came up with startling revelations in the Maharashtra Assembly, accusing a junior Mumbai Police officer of being involved in a bomb scare outside Mukesh Ambani’s home in Mumbai, the only man talking to the media was the one at the centre of it all — Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Hindurao Waze.

On February 25, an SUV was found parked outside Ambani’s Antilia home on Altamount Road. Inside, police found gelatin sticks and a threat note. The Scorpio was later traced to Mansukh Hiran, a Thane-based auto decor dealer, who alleged the car had been stolen on February 18. On March 5, Hiran was found dead, his body fished out of a creek in Mumbra.

Fadnavis had alleged that Waze, the officer from the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) who was investigating the case, knew Hiran from well before the incident and that he had call data records of the two to prove his point.

That was just the beginning. Since then, new revelations in the bomb scare case and Hiran’s death case — both are now being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) — have exposed the deeply compromised world of Mumbai’s police and politics. On Saturday, three days after he was removed as Mumbai Police Commissioner over “mistakes committed by his officers”, Param Bir Singh made serious allegations against state Home Minister and NCP leader Anil Deshmukh, saying Deshmukh used Waze to collect funds for him.

That day on March 5, after Fadnavis made the allegations in the Assembly, Waze, seated in his cabin on the fourth floor of the new building at Mumbai Police Headquarters, brashly fielded every question.

Asked if he knew Hiran, he shot back, “That is like me asking you why are you wearing a shirt and not a T-shirt. It is an irrelevant question. How does it matter?”

Then he went on to tell the reporters what they should be looking out for. “See, in my analysis, the most important question in the investigation that remains unanswered is, who was the person driving the Scorpio and how did he get out of the vehicle? In the footage, it is not clear how he got off the Scorpio and entered the Innova that was tailing the Scorpio car. You should focus on that.”

As it turned out, Waze knew the answer to his “most important”, “unanswered question”.

The NIA said that it was Waze who was behind the wheel of the Innova that night, overseeing the operation. The Scorpio, NIA investigators suspect, may have been driven by a member of the Waze-led CIU. At least five policemen from the CIU are being interrogated by the NIA.

The NIA investigation claims that from Day 1, Waze created several smokescreens. They have further alleged in their application to the court seeking his remand that when Waze realised his plan had unravelled, his team allegedly went about destroying evidence that would link them to the incident.

According to the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), which took over the case from the Waze-led CIU before the NIA took charge, it was Waze who made Hiran write a complaint to the government against the police and media three days before he was found dead on March 5. Hiran’s letter also included a grievance against Waze for “asking the same question again and again”.

The ATS suspects the letter served two purposes: it would show Hiran was under stress and may have committed suicide. On March 7, the ATS registered a murder case. Secondly, since the letter complained against Waze, no one would suspect Waze himself asked Hiran to write the letter.

***

The 51-year-old Waze, a former Mumbai Police ‘encounter specialist’, shot to infamy over his alleged role in the custodial death of a 27-year-old engineer, Khwaja Yunus. He was suspended from the force in 2004 and, four years later, in 2008, resigned when he wasn’t reinstated despite pleas.

But Waze didn’t simply fade away. Soon after leaving the force, he joined the Shiv Sena for a brief period. He took to cross-country biking, posting pictures of himself from various border areas. He wrote two books, one on the Sheena Bora murder case and the other on LeT operative David Headley, started a social networking site called Lai Bhari (loosely translates to ‘very cool’), became a talking head on television talk shows, and freelanced his technical skills and knowhow for the police and intelligence agencies.

The 2013 Marathi film Rege had a wheeler-dealer cop character based on him. The real-life Waze didn’t seem to mind the portrayal or the attention it brought him. But he did slap another Marathi filmmaker with a Rs 5 crore copyright infringement suit for using the title of his social networking site. The matter was settled out of court.

An official close to Waze said that during those years, he was a “cop without a uniform”. He claimed to have developed a software to “hear people’s phone conversations and access their messages”, a hack that was said to be sought out by investigators. “In that way, he remained relevant,” the person said.

Raised in the Shivajipeth area of Kolhapur, Waze, an avid cricketer and athlete, joined the force in 1990 and was posted in Gadchiroli, later moving to Thane where he, along with other officers, is credited with keeping the local Suresh Manchekar gang under control.

He later moved to Mumbai and was posted in the CIU. It was here that he worked with ‘encounter specialist’ Pradeep Sharma. Those were the 1990s and Sharma, Vijay Salaskar and Daya Nayak were some of the big-scalp hunters of that decade, their violent personalities showcased by Bollywood.

“Waze was close to Sharma right through his career. Working with the team, he too started being called ‘encounter specialist’ though he was mostly in Sharma’s shadow,” an officer said.

But he cultivated his own reputation. A terror accused would recall how Waze, who came to arrest him, sat in his living room and drank a cup of tea politely, before smashing the cup on the teapoy.

Waze was believed to have participated in 60 encounters before the Khwaja Yunus case put an end to that score.

Waze saw his chance when the Shiv Sena came to power after the 2019 elections. The elevation of Param Bir Singh as Mumbai Police Commissioner, with whom he had worked earlier, also helped. As Deputy Commissioner in the Crime Branch, Singh had led the team of encounter specialists in the 1990s. When Singh was Thane Police Commissioner, he got Pradeep Sharma reinstated, and posted him to the Crime Branch. And so it was with Waze too.

In June 2020, over a decade after Waze submitted his resignation — for reasons not clear, his resignation in 2008 was never accepted — Waze and 18 others were reinstated by a review committee headed by Singh. Among the reasons given for their return was the “overwhelming scenario of need of more policemen on duty” after as many as 99 police personnel lost their lives to Covid-19.

An officer who is reinstated is usually put out to pasture for a few months but there was no such cooling-off period for Waze. He was posted within weeks to the CIU, and soon began investigating some of the most high-profile cases of the last six months, among them the TRP scam, the Dilip Chhabria case and the Hrithik Roshan fake e-mail case. He also led the team that arrested Arnab Goswami in the Anvay Naik suicide case.

During media interactions, he would insist that reporters mention his name, but without attributing any of the information to him. Sources in the police said Waze was eager to shake off the taint from the Khwaja Yunus case.

With Waze becoming the face of these key cases, several officers believe he started growing too big for his boots. He is also said to have had direct access to police commissioner Singh.

“As an API, he should ideally report to the ACP. However, he would bypass his ACP, DCP, Additional Commissioner, Joint Commissioner, and communicate directly with the Commissioner. He thus rubbed several of his seniors the wrong way. But no one dared to confront him,” a senior officer said.

Despite several attempts by The Sunday Express, Param Bir Singh could not be contacted for this story.

Waze led the arrest party for Arnab Goswami in the Anvay Naik suicide case though it is the jurisdiction of the Raigad police. When journalists complained to Waze about the Raigad police not giving them information, Waze made a call to a senior officer — higher in rank to the Raigad SP — and told him that they should brief the media.

But finally, it was Waze’s overconfidence that led to his undoing, and that of the Mumbai Police.

An officer who, like Waze, was suspended and then reinstated, said, “A lot of us learnt from the mistakes we made during our first stint. I was lucky enough to get a second chance and have kept a low profile since then. It takes years to realise that the lure of fame has its own pitfalls. But it seems some don’t learn their lessons.”

***

The Sunday Express has learnt that the elaborate plan allegedly executed by Waze unravelled within hours of the incident. ATS sources said Waze was confident that the Scorpio and the white Innova that provided it cover as it was parked outside Antilia, would never be traced to him. That confidence, they said, was because he knew he and his team at CIU would be heading the investigation.

However, within an hour of the Scorpio being flagged by Ambani’s private security and being taken away from Antilia by Waze’s team, the ATS of the Maharashtra Police was alerted by the discovery of the gelatin sticks in the vehicle.

When a senior ATS officer sought to be taken to the Scorpio, Waze is said to have refused point blank, and claimed that he would investigate the case. It was only after officers at the senior-most levels got involved that the Mumbai Police informed ATS officials that the seized Scorpio was parked at the premises of Yellow Gate police station near CST station in South Mumbai.

On reaching there, the ATS realised that the vehicle had false number plates and the chassis and engine number were scratched. They managed to locate the owner, Sam Peter Newton, who told them that the Scorpio had been with Hiran, who had taken possession of the vehicle after he failed to pay him Rs 2.8 lakh for accessorising it. The first team to reach Hiran’s home in Thane was thus the ATS.

“With the ATS already reaching Hiran’s residence, Waze’s team had no choice but to call him for questioning. Attempts were made to delay the ATS probe,” an ATS officer said.

ATS sources said Waze’s plan further unravelled when Fadnavis read from Hiran’s call data records to show that Waze had spoken to the businessman at least twice last year. The government was left red-faced.

Fadnavis also read out a statement by Hiran’s wife in which she alleged that Waze had told Hiran to get arrested in the case, promising him that he would be out on bail soon. But by then, the NIA had taken over the case.

On March 13, the NIA called Waze for questioning and, after grilling him for 12 hours or more, arrested him. The government had no option but to suspend Waze — again.

***

What has emerged from the NIA probe so far is that Waze was part of the conspiracy to place the vehicle outside the Ambani residence, and that some of his colleagues at CIU helped him execute the plan. Investigators said that so far, Waze has not named anyone else.

But the big question remains the motive behind creating a security scare outside the house of the richest Indian, one who already falls in the government’s “Z plus” security category.

Waze reportedly told the NIA that he did it for personal glory — planting the car and then claiming to have solved the crime. Sources, however, said the agency is taking this explanation with a pinch of salt.

So far, Waze’s alleged crime has led to the transfer of the Mumbai police chief who, in turn, has left the government reeling with his allegations against the Home Minister. What next? The drama is still unfolding.

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