Bengaluru: Two actresses, including a former Miss India runner-up, a politician’s son, a party planner with a police uniform — the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of Bengaluru Police is investigating several suspects in its probe into an alleged drugs scandal believed to be operating in the Kannada film industry.
On Tuesday, police arrested actor Sanjjanaa Galrani, the star of the 2006 film Ganda Hendathi, a Kannada remake of the 2004 Anurag Basu hit Murder. Days before, on 4 September, actor Ragini Dwivedi, a former Miss India runner-up, was arrested.
Noted actors in Sandalwood (the name given to the Kannada film industry), both have been accused of procuring and distributing contraband and synthetic drugs.
Another big-ticket arrest in the case is that of celebrity party planner Viren Khanna, who deals in organising exclusive events that cater to expats and is believed to be close to Ragini.
During a raid Tuesday, police made a curious find at his house — a Karnataka Police uniform. Speaking to the media, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sandeep Patil said the uniform discovered includes a belt, cap, and shoes.
“The uniform did not have stars on it. We will investigate further as to why Viren had a police uniform in his possession,” he added.
Another prominent name that has surfaced in the investigation is that of Aditya, the son of former Karnataka minister Jeevaraj Alva. According to police sources, Aditya would rent out his property in Hebbal for weddings and high-profile parties.
The current investigation began after the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) busted an international drug trafficking racket through multi-city raids last month. During the raids, large amounts of drugs were allegedly recovered from upscale gated properties in Bengaluru that are believed to belong to high-profile personalities, largely from Sandalwood.
These raids first led to the arrest of an alleged peddler named Ravindra. Police sources told ThePrint that Ravindra maintained a diary with the names of several Kannada celebrities. Two others — identified as Anoop and Anikha — were subsequently arrested for alleged possession of drugs, including MDMA (ecstacy), sources said.
During interrogation, the sources added, Anikha “revealed that drugs used to be procured from Brussels, Belgium”. She also allegedly confessed to having had multiple Kannada film celebrities among her customers. The NCB found Ragini Dwivedi’s name on Anikha’s mobile phone contact list, the sources said.
Thirteen people have been booked and six arrested in the case so far.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ragini’s former legal representatives and Sanjjanaa’s lawyers criticised the police investigation.
While the former sought to note alleged “procedural lapses”, the latter has claimed their client is being framed.
‘A watertight case’
Ragini was a successful model before she debuted as an actress in the Kannada film industry in 2009 with the movie Veera Madakari. She has acted in over 30 south Indian films, including with top actors like Mohanlal (Kandahar) and Mammooty (Face to Face).
Khanna and Ragini, police sources said, are close and have organised several parties.
Both have been uncooperative in the probe, the sources added. “When asked to hand over the keys to his home and locker, Khanna said he did not have them. Police broke open the locks to gain access to his home and documents,” a source said.
Before her arrest, Ragini allegedly changed her phone number and remained inaccessible despite summons from police. She was later tracked and her residence raided.
During interrogation, sources said, Ragini has been tightlipped. However, “her call and bank records have revealed her links with several of the accused arrested in this case”, the sources added.
These alleged links include Loum Pepper Samba, a suspected drug peddler of African origin, from whom she is believed to have procured drugs. Police sources say she has denied links with Samba but her “financial transactions with him over six months prove her claims wrong”.
Also under investigation is Shankar, identified by police sources as an official of the regional transport office known to be close to Ragini. He was allegedly known to be a regular at rave parties where contraband like marijuana and cocaine were circulated.
Sources said Ragini tried to destroy evidence by deleting messages exchanged between them. However, the cybercrime technical team was able to retrieve this information from her phones, they added.
“We have a watertight case,” said an officer.
Ragini Dwivedi’s former counsel Pawan Shyam — who represented her the day she was arrested, but has since been replaced — said there were several procedural lapses on the part of police when they raided her residence. Among other things, they didn’t arrange two independent witnesses, as mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for searches, he added. “They simply barged into her house,” he said, adding that no drugs were found in her house.
‘Visited casinos around the world’
Sanjjanaa is also a multilingual actor who has worked in over 40 Telugu and Kannada films. Her sister Nikki Galrani is also an actress. Sanjjanaa made her acting debut with the Tamil film Oru Kaadhal Seiveer in 2006.
On Tuesday, CCB officials raided her residence in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, based on the statement of another accused, who is believed to have been close to her. This contact, sources said, confessed to have been involved in procuring drugs and hosting parties where they were distributed.
“Both of them visited casinos across the world and procured different substances from there as well,” said the police official quoted above.
“Sanjjanaa’s name also came up when Kannada film director Indrajit Lankesh claimed ‘big names’ were involved in a major drug racket in Sandalwood,” said a senior police officer close to the investigation.
Lankesh, the brother of slain journalist Gauri Lankesh, was questioned by the CCB after he claimed — in light of the NCB bust — that several personalities of the Kannada film industry are associated with the drugs trade.
The CCB has seized several documents from Sanjjanaa’s residence to analyse her financials, as also her mobile phones, sources said.
Sanjjanaa’s lawyer S.S. Srinivas Rao said police have tried to frame his client by claiming that she is part of this drug racket.
“There is no case made out against her. Sanjjanaa’s name does not feature in any of the FIRs filed to date. She has been arrested based on the statement of another accused. How can police do this?” Rao said.
“She has a strong case and she will come out innocent, “ Rao told ThePrint.