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Shah may be a gem in the diamond trade, but…

MUMBAI, JAN 10: Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal is locked in an unexpected controversy. Allegations have surfaced that the stringent...

Written by PRAFULLA MARPAKWAR |
January 11, 2001

MUMBAI, JAN 10: Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal is locked in an unexpected controversy. Allegations have surfaced that the stringent action initiated against Bharat Shah was sparked off by his closeness to Shiv Sena and that Bhujbal was settling political scores through Shah.

However, in an exclusive interview, Bhujbal denied the charge, saying he would welcome a parallel probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation as “then we will also know how many DRI, ED and customs cases are there against him”.

Excerpts:

You have detained Bharat Shah for his alleged links with Chhota Shakeel, but it is being said you have done this to settle political scores because he is close to the Shiv Sena.

Firstly, there is absolutely no substance in the allegations. I feel that such charges are being made to dilute the seriousness of the case. It will not have any adverse impact on the investigations. The police are moving in the right direction. The case was filed after it was confirmed he has direct links with Chhota Shakeel.

Secondly, why I should arrest Bharat Shah to settle scores with the Shiv Sena? We arrested Bal Thackeray himself when it was necessary. I had given a free hand to the police then, I have done so now. So far as Bharat Shah is concerned, even I know him. We sat next to each other at the BMC’s function to felicitate Dhirubhai Ambani. I knew what was in store for him.

The genesis of the argument that you are settling scores with Shah was in your statement in the Assembly in December. When Narayan Rane said his government had initiated a probe against Shah, you said you also knew who financed Haseena Maan Jayegi, a film produced by Smita Thackeray.

That statement has been turned on its head. Actually, when Rane said he had initiated the probe, I asked him why he had not taken action against him. Was it because Shah had financed Haseena?

Was his arrest sudden or were you keeping tabs on him?

No, there was no investigation initially. But after film producer Nazim Rizvi’s confessions, we stepped up our intelligence network. When it was confirmed that he has links with Chhota Shakeel, it was decided to book him under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

The diamond industry has alleged that you booked him for his proximity to the Shiv Sena. It has also described him as a major exporter with a clean record and have protested the arrest.

Again this is a false charge. Criminal proceedings were launched against him after verification of documents as well as examination of his conversation with Chhota Shakeel. Shah may be a gem in the diamond business but we are not probing his diamond business here. But when we have hard evidence about his links with the mafia, should the police let him go because he commands a diamond trade worth thousands of crores? And, even for the sake of argument, if I’m biased against Shah, who made the calls to Shakeel? Did I force him to talk to him? How can we ignore such hard evidence? No one is above the law. We proved it then (with the arrest of Thackeray) and have proved it now.

Since there are these suspicions about your alleged interest in the case, would you be willing to give the case over to the CBI if such a demand were made?

We have so far not received such a demand. But I will welcome it. Even now, let the CBI conduct a parallel probe — and then we will see how many cases he has pending before the Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Customs. Oh, yes, I’ll welcome that.

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