Antilia bomb scare: Pressure mounts on Mumbai Commissioner, Home Minister; will Anil Deshmukh resign?

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Updated: Mar 16, 2021 2:47 PM

Sachin Vaze's role in the entire Antilia case and subsequent "murder" of auto parts business person Mansukh Hiren is "questionable" with the new findings of National Investigation Agency (NIA) adding more evidence against the suspended Mumbai cop.

Anil Deshmukh

Ambani explosive case: The arrest of Mumbai police officer Sachin Vaze has once again put the question mark over the conduct of city police and its boss, Param Bir Singh. Vaze, who has been suspended for the second time, was brought back by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and was directly reporting to him. Vaze’s role in the entire Antilia case and subsequent “murder” of auto parts business person Mansukh Hiren is “questionable” with the new findings of National Investigation Agency (NIA) adding more evidence against the suspended Mumbai cop.

To recap, a Scorpio with explosives inside was found parked near Mukesh Ambani’s high-rise residence, Antilia. The SUV belonged to auto parts business man named Mansukh Hiren, who later claimed that the vehicle was stolen days before it was found near Ambani’s house. About a week later, Hiren was found dead in a creek near Thane. Hiren’s wife claimed that the SUV was, for a few months, with Vaze and that her husband could have been murdered by him. The mystery deepened when it was discovered that the explosive-laden SUV was tailed by an Innova car, which belonged to Mumbai Police but with a fake number plate.

Following the allegations by Hiren’s wife that Vaze used the vehicle in question, the NIA tried to probe whether that was indeed the case. When the central agency approached the society where Vaze lived for CCTV footage, it turned out that the recordings had already been taken away by a team of Mumbai Police’s Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU). This happened just a day after Vaje was named the investigating officer in the Antilia bomb case.

According to a report in The Indian Express, on February 27, Vaze’s team visited the housing society where he stays and allegedly took possession of all CCTV footage. In a separate move, the report said, Vaze and his team took CCTV footage and a register from a shop in Thane where fake number plates found on two vehicles involved in the incident were allegedly made. But what is surprising is that none of these “seizures” was recorded by the CIU in case papers as part of evidence, a senior police officer told The Indian Express.

The NIA suspects that the CIU team allegedly wanted to destroy evidence in the case. So far, the central agency has questioned five other CIU policemen, including two APIs other than Vaze. The explosive-laden SUV was found parked near Ambani’s house on February 25 and just two days later the CIU team visited Saket Cooperative Housing Society in Thane West, where Vaze stays, and asked the office-bearers to hand over the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) containing all CCTV footage. Two DVRs were handed over the same day, according to IE.

The report said that the four-member police team initially made an oral request and were reluctant to put in a formal written request. However, when the society said that it would not hand over the footage without a written demand, they wrote a letter. The IE reviewed the contents of the letter signed by API Riyazuddin Kazi and handed over to the housing society on February 27. In the letter, the CIU states that for the purpose of investigation “this office needs to check the CCTV installed in premises of your society and the adjoining area”. “Whereas CCTV footage of your premises of your society and the adjoining roads and areas are stored in the DVR. Whereas these DVR are needed to be taken in charge for the thorough investigation,” it states.

On Monday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at the latter’s official residence in Mumbai. They, as per reports, discussed Vaze’s arrest and the police’s handling of the bomb scare case. There is growing disquiet over the manner in which the entire case has been handled by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, sources told The Indian Express. A senior Sena leader told the daily that Pawar and Thackeray agreed that the bomb scare and the subsequent death of Hiren had shown the Mumbai police in very poor light and had adversely affected the image of the government as well.

According to IE, one view emerged at the meeting that changing the Commissioner could signal accountability and help the government recover some lost ground. Thackeray and Pawar, the report said, also discussed the future of the state home minister as it was felt that he was not in effective “control over his department or the police force”. The report states that both the leaders are on the same page that the home ministry may also need a change of face.

The questions have also been raised over the way the Police Commissioner “mishandled” the entire episode. “Vaze was reporting directly to him. How did the police commissioner let this happen?” a senior Sena said while speaking to IE.

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