Mumbai: A team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from Delhi, including a superintendent of police rank officer, will undertake a preliminary inquiry into the allegations of corrupt malpractices levelled by senior IPS officer Param Bir Singh against former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh, ThePrint has learnt.
The team of at least six officers, expected to reach Mumbai Tuesday night, was set up after the Bombay High Court issued an order directing a CBI investigation into the “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” case.
“CBI will send its team of investigators to Mumbai on Tuesday, to probe the allegations against Maharashtra’s former home minister, as per directions of the Bombay High Court given on Monday. We have been asked to conclude our probe, which will be in the nature of a preliminary inquiry, within a fortnight,” a source in the agency told ThePrint.
The investigators are likely to seek the version of all those connected to the matter, including an assistant commissioner of police and a deputy commissioner of police, to verify the authenticity of Singh’s allegations of malpractices, CBI sources said.
According to Singh, the two police officers were allegedly called to Dyaneshwar, Deshmukh’s official residence when he was a minister, in south Mumbai on 4 March to allegedly discuss the collection of “Rs 40-50 crore” from the city’s 1,750-odd bars, restaurants and establishments.
Deshmukh, who resigned from the Maharashtra cabinet Monday following the high court order, has denied any wrongdoing, called Singh’s allegations false and said he would take legal action.
Apart from the two officers, the CBI will also seek the version of other officers who may have similarly received illegal instructions or had been ‘witnesses’ to such meetings in which the alleged malpractices were discussed or occurred, the sources said.
The agency might also seek the version of the former minister’s personal staff that may have allegedly witnessed such malpractices, the sources added. Investigators will go through February and March CCTV footage from Dyaneshwar — the period that figures in Singh’s complaint — and the visitors’ entry-exit logs maintained there, if any, the sources said.
Singh had made the allegations against Deshmukh in an explosive letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Governor Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari last month. The letter came days after Singh was transferred to the low-key Maharashtra Home Guard from his posting as Mumbai Police commissioner. Singh was under fire over the handling of the bomb scare outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house in south Mumbai.
CBI to first establish if offence occurred
The CBI’s preliminary probe will be a step lower than its ‘regular cases’, for which a First Information Report is registered, the sources said.
“The CBI during its high court-directed probe will ascertain first of all, whether the available evidence and witness accounts establish the commission of a cognisable offence as per law. Only then, the next appropriate step, including the registration of a regular case to look into the allegations of malpractices can be taken,” said the source quoted above.
“As part of the preliminary probe, the agency will call in individuals who might be connected to the allegations, in any capacity, to verify if an offence was conducted and the purported roles of people, if any,” the source said, adding that clarifications will be sought from them. “If required, we will look at concerned audio-visual, text-based records of evidentiary value.”
In his letter, Singh had also alleged that suspended Mumbai cop, Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze, was called by Deshmukh to his official residence several times in the last few months and “repeatedly instructed to assist in collection of funds”. Singh also alleged that two other serving police officers went to the residence on 4 March, according to information given to him by one of them.
According to Singh, an aide of Deshmukh when he was still a minister had allegedly told the two officers that the target was to collect Rs 40-50 crore from bars and restaurants.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni said this was an “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” case that warranted an independent inquiry. In its 52-page judgment, the bench said Singh’s allegations against Deshmukh had put at stake the citizens’ faith in the state police. Such allegations, made by a serving police officer, against the state home minister could not be left unattended, and were required to be probed into, if prima facie, they made a case of a cognisable offence, the court said.
The high court pronounced its verdict on three public interest litigations (PILs) and a criminal writ petition filed last month, seeking a CBI probe into the matter. One of the PILs was filed by Singh himself, and the other two were by lawyer Ghanshyam Upadhyay and local teacher Mohan Bhide. The criminal writ petition was filed by city-based lawyer Jayshree Patil.
While the high court ordered a CBI inquiry on Patil’s plea, it disposed of all other petitions. Singh, in his plea filed last month, had sought a CBI probe against Deshmukh who, he claimed, had allegedly asked police officers, including Waze, to extort up to Rs 100 crore from bars and restaurants.
Waze was suspended after he was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on 13 March for his alleged role in placing an explosives-laden Scorpio near the south Mumbai residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani on 25 February. Waze is also under the NIA scanner as part of its probe related to the alleged murder of the Scorpio’s last owner, Thane’s automobile accessories dealer Mansukh Hiren, who went missing on 4 March. His body was recovered from the Mumbra creek the next day.
The state’s counsel, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, had urged the high court to dismiss all the pleas, including that of Singh, saying they were not maintainable. Kumbhakoni had said Singh filed the PIL to settle personal scores. Besides, since no FIR had been registered in the case, a CBI inquiry could not be ordered, he submitted.
However, Jayshree Patil pointed out that she had registered a complaint against both Deshmukh and Singh at the Malabar Hill police station on 21 March, but the police had failed to conduct a preliminary inquiry and register an FIR.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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