Politics Takes Centre Stage in NCB's Probe Into Cruise Drugs Case

Allegations against and counter-claims by NCB investigating officer Sameer Wankhede have grabbed headlines.

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Mumbai: It is a truth well known that the moment a central investigating agency takes over a criminal case in Maharashtra, the probe no longer remains just about the crime. Politics takes over soon after.

This happened in the case arising from the death, by suicide, of actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year, repeated itself this year in the investigation into the alleged bomb scare outside billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani’s residence in South Mumbai and now, with the the recent arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan along with few others in an alleged drug case.

From the arrest of 23-year-old Aryan Khan and his extended custody period, now going on 24 days, the focus has now shifted on the Narcotics Control Bureau’s investigating officer, Sameer Wankhede.

Wankhede, an Indian Revenue Service officer of the 2008 batch, who was appointed as a zonal director of the NCB last year has been facing the ire of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state. He has been accused of being a “BJP agent” and maligning the Maharashtra government’s image.

The Hindu rightwing, on the other hand, has been rallying around Wankhede and lauding him as an upright officer on a mission to eliminate crime. Two days ago, the organisation headed by Hindu hardliner Manohar Kulkarni alias Sambhaji Bhide agitated in several cities in western Maharashtra against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government for “targeting” Wankhede.

Bhide’s organisation has also written to Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, seeking action against Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and spokesperson Nawab Malik for making pointed remarks against Wankhede.

A protest in support of Sameer Wankhede. Photo: Video screengrab

Among many allegations against Wankhede, the most potent one was made by a witness in Khan’s case. The witness, Prabhakar Sail, who claims to be bodyguard of K.P. Gosavi, a “private investigator” is one of the panch (spot) witnesses in the case. Gosavi, allegedly close to Wankhede and his family members, was present at the time of the raid in the Goa- bound cruise liner on October 2, when Khan and others were arrested.

Sail claims that he was made to sign blank papers by Wankhede.

The viral selfie taken by Kiran Gosavi (left) with Aryan Khan. Photo: Social media

In the affidavit, which was circulated on social media, Sail has claimed that while working with Gosavi he had overheard him talk to one Sam D’Souza about a Rs “18- crore deal”. Of this, Sail has claimed that Rs 8 crore was Wankhede’s share.

Sail has also claimed that Gosavi is currently missing and the NCB has a role in this. “I fear for my life,” Sail has claimed in his affidavit.

Soon after the affidavit was circulated across social media platforms, the NCB Mumbai office issued a statement saying that the affidavit needs to be filed in the court.

“As he (Sail) is a witness in the case and as the case is before the honourable court and sub-judice, he needs to submit his prayer to the honourable court rather than through social media if he has anything to say,” stated Mutha Ashok Jain, the Deputy Director General of NCB, in a letter.

Wankhede has denied this allegation and has called it an attempt to “malign” him and his family members. On Monday, October 25, Wankhede, through his office, moved the special Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act court, complaining against Sail and against the “lurking threat of arrest”.

The court has observed that it cannot pass blanket orders to bar courts from taking cognisance of Sail’s affidavit.

Wankhede, in his affidavit, states that, “After spearheading this cruise investigation, I have been personally targeted especially by a known political figure for reasons best known to him.”

Wankhede openly accused Malik of targeting him. “From time to time there is a series of vendetta targeted at me and my family members who are victims of such defamatory attacks and false, frivolous and vexatious allegations…I was threatened to be arrested and to be dispelled from my job/service. There are a slew of attacks against me and my family,” his affidavit notes.

Malik’s son-in-law Sameer Khan was implicated by Wankhede in a drug peddling case. After the NDPS court in Mumbai ruled out that no evidence was found against Sameer, Malik had addressed the press and accused Wankhede of false claims and running a “media trial” against his family.

Malik had alleged that the NCB had shown 200 kg herbal tobacco as ganja or marijuana and produced photographs of seized drugs which were actually taken at its office. Malik said the NCB had “found nothing” in the raids conducted at Khan’s office. “But wrong information was still passed on to the media,” Malik had said in the press meet. This, he claimed, was done with a mala fide intention and for “cheap publicity”.

Wankhede is not new to controversies. In the past too, while having been deputed at the Central Excise department, Wankhede earned the reputation of detaining several film personalities at the Mumbai airport for purportedly trying to evade customs duty.

Last year, Wankhede was brought to NCB to specially investigate the drug case against actor Rhea Chakraborty and her brother Showik. Strangely, in both, the Chakraborty and Aryan Khan cases, the NCB, in the absence of any contraband, has relied only on WhatsApp chats.