Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik Tuesday continued his slugfest with Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Mumbai Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede, releasing an anonymous letter that alleges the Indian Revenue Service officer used to plant drugs during raids to create fake cases and ran an extortion racket.
The “fake cases” cited included one filed against Malik’s son-in-law Sameer Khan earlier this year, besides the high-profile alleged drug bust on Cordelia, the Goa-bound cruise ship, on 2 October, which led to the arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan, among others.
Speaking to ThePrint about the letter, Wankhede said it is “false, malicious and [I] completely condemn it”. He also shared a series of documents on his family members to challenge Malik’s Monday allegation that he had lied about his religion to get an IRS job.
The continuing exchange between Malik and Wankhede has lent several twists to the cruise drug bust case, with the former questioning the case in a series of press conferences and tweets. The minister has described the case as “fake” and raised questions about a non-NCB employee who was seen escorting and accompanying Aryan Khan after his detention.
Wankhede has denied all allegations. After a witness in the case said he was scared of Wankhede and alleged talk of “payoffs”, the IRS officer approached Mumbai Police chief Hemant Nagrale, requesting that he ensure no hasty action is taken against him.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that Malik’s constant allegations against Wankhede and the NCB are because of the agency’s action against his son-in-law.
What the anonymous letter says
The undated letter purportedly addressed to Malik and signed by “a true patriot against the NCB’s (Narcotics Control Bureau) dishonesty”, lists 26 cases where Wankhede allegedly did not follow the rules.
Malik Tuesday sent the letter to the NCB Director General for “appropriate action”.
The letter lists the Sameer Khan case as the second one.
“In case number 03/2021, Sameer Khan was arrested in a fake case, 200 kilograms of tobacco was shown as ganja and the case was wrongly prepared. Section 27A of the NDPS Act (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) was misused by showing financial transactions,” it alleges.
Section 27A of the NDPS Act deals with financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders.
The NCB arrested Sameer Khan in January 2021, and he served eight months behind bars before being granted bail by a special court in September. The court said there was no case of drug trafficking and conspiracy against Sameer Khan.
A day after the court order was published earlier this month, Malik held a press conference where he said Sameer Khan and others were “wrongly framed and it is a very serious issue”. “The NCB has simply tried to mislead,” he added.
Addressing the press Tuesday, Malik said he next plans to show how Wankhede was illegally intercepting phone conversations with the help of two persons not associated with any government agency.
“Sameer Wankhede also asked (the Mumbai Police) for the call data records of my daughter. Mumbai Police said we can’t give information about her private life to you,” he added.
The NCB is reportedly planning to move the Bombay High Court seeking cancellation of Sameer Khan’s bail, citing violation of bail conditions.
The Sameer Khan case
According to the prosecution’s submission to the court, seen by ThePrint, NCB sleuths had information about two parcels lying at a courier office in Bandra East in the name of Karan Sejnani, a British national, to be delivered to one Vinay Sharma in Shillong.
The NCB raided Sejnani’s home in Khar and allegedly found 194.6 kg of marijuana and six CBD (cannabidiol) sprays. By 9 January, the NCB had arrested businessman Sejnani, and his alleged partners Rahila and Shaista Furniturewala.
On 13 January, the NCB called Sameer Khan for questioning at the agency’s office at Ballard Pier in south Mumbai, and arrested him the same day. The agency said there was a Rs 20,000 transaction on Google Pay between Khan and Sejnani, which the agency suspected was payment for drugs. The NCB claimed that Sejnani and Khan were planning to sell cannabis-related products under the pretext of selling a herbal mix, circumventing provisions of the NDPS Act.
Khan said he was being falsely implicated, and there was no evidence of a nexus between him and Sejnani. Khan’s lawyers also said Sejnani and Khan were acquaintances who had discussed many business ideas, including some related to tobacco, but none of them involved marijuana.
The court initially denied bail to Khan in February, saying the probe was still underway.
Chargesheet, then bail
The NCB filed a chargesheet against Khan, Sejnani and four others in July, saying the accused conspired to procure, sell and transport 194.6 kilograms of ganja and six CBD sprays.
The NCB noted in court that of the 18 samples sent for forensic analysis, eight had come back negative for cannabis or related products, but the rest still amounted to 85 kilograms, which qualifies as commercial quantity under the NDPS Act.
Of the other ten, the NCB said in court, one of the samples had a substance that was found to be ganja, four others had the presence of CBD, while five others contained active constituents of cannabis such as CBD, dronabinol or cannabinol.
The defence lawyers refuted the NCB’s claim, saying nine of the ten samples did not fall under the purview of the NDPS Act.
“Considering the description of the alleged contraband under seizure, there is nowhere mentioning of the flowering or fruiting tops as such… It is only when the psychoactive constituent, Tetrahydrocannabinol, is detected. And in the absence of same it cannot be termed as ganja or any other narcotic drug or psychotropic substance,” Khan’s lawyer had argued, according to court documents. The defence said if this was considered, then the amount of ganja recovered stands at just six grams.
While granting bail to Khan and two others, the special NDPS court said exactly this. In its order dated 27 September 2021, the court said, the chemical analysis report places “the ascertainment of alleged contraband in commercial quantity under a shadow of doubt”.
Wankhede’s family documents
Meanwhile, Wankhede shared caste and school certificates, among other documents, related to several of his relatives to counter Malik’s allegations that he used forged documents to get into the civil services under a reserved category.
The documents, not independently verified by ThePrint, purportedly show his father’s brothers, their children and grandchildren all had a caste certificate that showed them to be Mahars, a Scheduled Caste.
“Above these are the caste certificates of relatives. Let him (Nawab Malik) say this is also fake,” Wankhede told ThePrint in a WhatsApp message.
The Civil Services Examination candidate information list maintained by the Department of Personnel and Training shows Wankhede applied for the job under the Scheduled Caste quota and was allotted the Indian Revenue Service.
Malik had alleged Monday that Wankhede is a Muslim. Dalit Muslims are not eligible for benefits under the Scheduled Caste quota.
To back his allegation, Malik tweeted a copy of Wankhede’s purported birth certificate, which shows his father’s name as ‘Dawood Wankhede’. His service records mention his father’s name as Dnyandeo Wankhede.
Wankhede had Monday responded saying his father is Hindu and late mother was Muslim, while he belongs to a “composite, multi-religious and secular family”.
The NCB officer, who originally hails from the Washim district in Vidarbha, also shared documents such as his father’s school admission slip at a Marathi-medium school at Risod in Washim that mentions Dnyandeo Kachruji Wankhede’s caste as Mahar, and his grandfather’s profession as a labourer.
A copy of his father’s school-leaving certificate from the New Era Highschool in Akola also mentions his caste as ‘Mahar’.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)