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The Hindu
The Hindu
Devesh K Pandey

Sameer Wankhede and others accused of serious irregularities in Mumbai cruise case

Former Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Mumbai zone director Sameer Wankhede and two other officials have been accused of serious irregularities owing to which an “independent witness” in the cruise ship case had allegedly conspired with others to extort ₹25 crore from the family of Aryan Khan, according to the First Information Report registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

In its complaint, the NCB has alleged that on receipt of information about the consumption and possession of drugs by various persons on the Cordelia Cruise ship on October 2, 2021, Mr. Wankhede and the then superintendent Vishwa Vijay Singh had formed a team for conducting search and seizure operation at the entry gate of the International Terminal Building of the Mumbai Port Trust and the Cordelia Cruise.

Intelligence officer Ashish Ranjan Prasad was made the investigating officer, while Kiran Gosavi and Prabhakar Sail were taken as “independent witnesses” in one of the incidents in the case. The seizures and arrests were carried out under the supervision of the three NCB officials.

Also Read | Sameer Wankhede not to probe cruise drugs case; NCB ropes in operations team

Following the graft charge, the NCB conducted an inquiry and found that names of certain suspects had allegedly been dropped from the first information note and those of some others included subsequently through modification to suit the proceedings. The initial note contained 27 names and the modified one only 10. Several passengers were searched at the departure gate of the Mumbai Port Trust. During the exercise, one Arbaaz A. Merchant accepted that he was carrying “charas” hidden inside his shoes and it was seized.

The search of many others whose names were available with the NCB officials was done but it was not documented. Some suspects were allowed to leave without any documentation. Siddarth Shah, who had allegedly supplied “charas” to Mr. Merchant was also allowed to walk free even though he had allegedly confessed to having taken money for the same. Also, there were incriminating chats showing that he himself was consuming drugs, as alleged.

The inquiry revealed that the accused persons were brought to the NCB office in a private vehicle of Mr. Gosavi. It appeared that his presence with the accused persons was allowed intentionally so as to give the impression that he was an NCB staffer even though they were several NCB personnel to handle the custody of the accused persons. Against the norms, he was even allowed to come to the NCB office after the raid. During the entire process, he took clicked selfies with Mr. Aryan and also allegedly recorded his voice note.

Also Read: Mumbai cruise case | Action ordered against Sameer Wankhede

According to the FIR, all this allowed Mr. Gosavi and his aide Sanvile D’ Souza among others to enter into the conspiracy to extort ₹25 crore from the family members of Mr. Aryan on the threat of getting him framed for possession of drugs. The amount was finally scaled down to ₹18 crore. A token of ₹50 lakh as bribe money was also taken by Mr. Gosavi and his aide, but later a part of it was returned.

The NCB alleged that as per the findings of its vigilance branch, Mr. Wankhede had not properly explained his foreign visits and had apparently misdeclared the expenditure on his foreign travels. He had also not declared the source of the foreign visits properly. Besides, he had indulged in the sale and purchase of expensive wrist watches with a private entity, Viral Rajan, without intimating the authorities concerned.

After registering the FIR, the CBI had searched 29 locations in in Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Lucknow, Chennai and Guwahati last week.

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