The arrest of Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan at an alleged rave party on a Goa-bound cruise liner has put an unlikely figure in the spotlight - Sameer Wankhede, the zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau who led the raid.
Wankhede is all over social media with many referring to him as the 'Dabbang' cop - the impeccable hero policeman as potrayed in Bollywood movies. But he is also facing severe criticism led by Nationalist Congress Party leader and Maharashtra Minority Development minister Nawab Malik who has raised questions about his family background and made several allegations over the last few days.
Who Is Sameer Wankhede?
A 2008 batch officer of the Indian Revenue Service, the 40-year-old officer is from Maharashtra and has worked with several central agencies including the Service Tax department, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Customs department.
Before being posted as the zonal director of the NCB, Wankhede has worked with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as the additional superintendent of police and as the deputy commissioner of the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU). He was also the Assistant commissioner for Customs at the Mumbai airport.
Son of a former police officer from Maharashtra, Wankhede is married to a Marathi actress Kranti Redkar.
Sameer Wankhede's Past Investigation
The arrest of Aryan Khan is not Wankhede's first brush with Bollywood celebrities. While posted as the Deputy Commissioner of the AIU, he brought to task many Bollywood singers and actors who in a bid to avoid paying customs duty, would not declare their goods and pass through the green channel. As a Customs officer in 2013, Wankhede made headlines for detaining singer Mika Singh at the Mumbai International airport for carrying currency beyond the permissible limits as per the foreign Exchange Management Act.
In 2011, India won the ICC World Cup but the original trophy had reportedly been seized by the Mumbai customs department as it was not exempt from customs duty. The said seizure is said to have been led by Wankhede.
In 2011, he also detained Shah Rukh Khan for carrying excess baggage and fined him Rs 1.5 lakh duty. As part of the Services Tax department, Wankhede led raids at properties owned by Anurag Kashyap, Ram Gopal Verma and Vivek Oberoi.
Given his long list of successes, it came as no surprise that Wankhede in August 2020 was sent on deputation to the NCB from his old posting at the DRI to probe the drugs angle in the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. It was after Wankhede took over the investigation that high profile actors like Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan were called in for questioning by the NCB.
In an interview earlier this year to the Indian Express, Wankhede was asked why the NCB was looking into cases that involve smaller quantities of drugs, to which he replied, "..In order to attack the drug menace, we need to have a consolidated approach, target each and every evader. Now there is awareness, everybody knows drug consumption is a crime.
In August 2021, a few months before the Aryan Khan case, Wankhede and his team at the NCB were awarded the Home Minister's medal for "excellence in investigation".
A senior officer who has worked with Wankhede on a case described him as someone who has made a dent in the narcotics network in Goa and especially against the high profile clientele in Mumbai. "He is very upright and good at his job. He was called in for the Sushant Singh Rajput case because of the network he has built over the years busting drugs supply. It is not right to say he only goes after celebrities, if you look at the NCB track record during his tenure you will see drug peddlers to factory manufacturers have all been arrested," said the officer.
The Controversy With Nawab Malik
On the side lines of the Aryan Khan investigation, is another fued making headlines between senior NCP leader Nawab Malik and Wankhede. Since Khan's arrest, Malik has been critical of every step of the investigation, publicly made remarks against Wankhede, his family and also made several allegations against the NCB's officer character and career.
The attack on NCB and Wankhede by Malik began a few days into Aryan Khan's arrest with the NCP leader claiming that a Bharatiya Janata Party worker Manish Bhanushali and an alleged private detective Kiran P Gosavi were present during the raid. Malik has repeatedly called the investigation fake, claiming no drugs were found on the ship and also added that the investigation is a sham. In addition to raising questions about the investigation, Malik's attacks grew more personal. He shared a birth certificate claiming it shows Wankhede's father's name as Dawood Wankhede and he is a Muslim who forged his documents and "hid his religion". He also questioned the involvement of a panchnama witness called Fletcher Patel, sharing a photo of Wankhede's sister Yasmeen with Patel and claimed that they are family friends.
On October 26, Malik accused Wankhede of illegal phone tapping and said he will be forwarding proof of it to the agency.
Incidentally, Malik's attacks against Wankhede started soon after his son-in-law Sameer Khan who was arrested by the NCB in a separate drugs case was released on bail. Malik has alleged that his son-in-law was arrested on false charges.
With the attacks getting personal and frequent, Wankhede without naming Malik issued a statement saying, "It has come to my notice that some precipitate legal action for framing me falsely is being planned by unknown persons in relation to alleged vigilance related issue." He further spoke about his religion and said, "I would like to express that my father Sh. Dnyandev Kachruji Wankhede retired as Senior Police Inspector of State Excise Department, Pune on 30.06.2007. My father is a Hindu and my mother Late Mrs. Zaheeda was a Muslim"
Calling out Malik for tweeting his alleged birth certificate, Wankhede has said the act is to malign him and his family. "The publishing of my personal documents on Twitter is defamatory in nature and unnecessary invasion of my family privacy. The series of acts of Hon'ble Minister over the past few days have put me and my family under tremendous mental and emotional pressure. I am pained by the nature of personal, defamatory and slanderous attacks."
NCB Investigates Allegations By Witness Prabhakar Sail
On October 24, Prabhakar Sail, the body guard of KP Gosavi, the NCB witness to the cruise ship drugs bust, alleged that a demand of Rs 25 crore had been made on behalf of Wankhede to allow Aryan Khan to be let off. In a notarised affidavit, Sail made a series of allegations including claims that he was made to sign on a blank panchnama by the NCB and that with Gosavi reportedly absconding, he felt a threat to his life from Wankhede. Gosavi has since speaking to several media outlets denied the allegations.
Reacting to the allegations, the NCB issued a statement stating, "As he (Prabhakar Sail) is a witness in the case and the case is before the court and sub-judice, he needs to submit his prayer to the court rather than through social media if he has anything to say... Our zonal director Sameer Wankhede has categorically denied these allegations."