On Saturday night, the National Investigative Agency arrested Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze in connection with the explosives found in an SUV near Mukesh Ambani's Mumbai house, Antilia. The arrest comes a day after a Thane sessions court refused him interim protection in the murder of businessman Mansukh Hiran, in a case being investigated by the Anti Terrorism Squad after Hiran's wife filed an FIR alleging Vaze had killed her husband.
The case which started with a terror scare to industrialist Mukesh Ambani and his family, turned into a case of murder with political twists and turns. The Maharashtra Legislative Council turned into a battlefield when opposition leaders led by former chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Devendra Fadnavis claimed Vaze was responsible for Hiran's death and demanded that he be charged for destroying evidence. The opposition leaders have also accused Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena for not conducting a proper investigation in the case.
BOOM explains how the case started, the key figures and the controversy surrounding it:
TERROR SCARE AT MUKESH AMBANI'S HOUSE ANTILIA
On February 25, security staff at Antilia, the house where Ambani lives with his family noticed a green SUV abandoned near the house. The SUV identified as a green Scorpio, oddly carried the same registration number as that of a car in the Z-plus security detail of Ambani's wife Nita Ambani. The Antilia staff alerted the police and investigation showed that the vehicle was parked outside the Shikhar Kunj building on Carmichael road, a few meters away from Antilia and had been there since 1.30 am the previous night and was noticed by the industrialist's staff the next afternoon.
The police after inspection found 20 gelatin sticks (commonly used in explosives), a bag with the logo of Mumbai Indians, the Indian Premier League team owned by the Ambanis and a handwritten note addressed to Mukesh and Nita Ambani. According to media reports, the letter was written in a coarse language and threatened the Ambanis that while this time the explosives were not assembled, next time it would be. Mumbai Police spokesperson, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Chaitanya S, told reporters that the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad were alerted who inspected the vehicle and found gelatin sticks inside and added that "it is not an assembled explosive device". The investigating officer of the case was Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze.
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that the police was investigating the matter and security around the Antilia had been maximised in view of the incidents.
WHO WAS MANSUKH HIRAN AND HOW IS HIS DEATH LINKED TO THE ANTILIA CASE?
Mansukh Hiran a resident of Thane, had an auto parts dealership in Crawford market area of Mumbai. He was on February 26, identified as the owner of the vehicle found outside Antilia. Speaking to reporters after visiting the Mumbai Police Commissioner's office, Hiran said that he had parked his SUV near Airoli Mulund bridge on February 17 after the steering jammed while on his way to attend an event. News reports quoted Hiran as saying, "The next day, when I went to get my car, it could not be found at the spot. After a search of about four hours, I realised that it had been stolen and lodged a complaint at Vikhroli police station and an offence was registered in that connection."
On March 5, with investigations in the case ongoing, the police found Hiran's body from Mumbra creek in Thane. According to media reports, at least five handkerchiefs were tied around Hiran's face when police officials fished out the body. With his vehicle's alleged involvement in the Ambani incident, Hiran's sudden death made headlines with Home Minister Deshmukh saying, "No injury marks were found on the body, post-mortem is being conducted"
While initial unconfirmed reports suggested that Hiran had likely died by suicide, his wife Vimla, quickly refuted the claims and said he had allegedly gone to a meet a policeman named Tawde to assist in the investigation in the SUV explosives case. The businessman's wife in her statement to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), first raised allegations against API Vaze. Vaze then posted with the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Mumbai Police, was investigating how the explosives laden car was found outside Antilia.
In her FIR registered with the ATS, Vimla made a series of allegations against Vaze including that he had killed her husband. Vimla in her FIR narrates the sequence of events till March 5, the day her husband's body was found in the creek. According to the FIR, Vimla alleged that the Scorpio found outside Antilia was actually in possession of Vaze for the last three months. She states that Hiran was in possession of the Scorpio car for three years and it originally belonged to one Peter Newton and added that Hiran gave the car to Vaze in November 2019. In the FIR, she refers to Vaze as a "regular client" of her husband.
The FIR states, "On February 5, Vaze sent the car to our shop with a complaint of the steering not working properly. On February 17, Hiran left for Mumbai in the car. However, the steering got jammed and he parked the car near Mulund toll plaza and left it there. The next day, he could not find the car in the same spot where he left it." Vimla further alleges that Vaze met with her husband, Hiran, repeatedly after the vehicle was found with explosive material outside the Ambani's residence. "He met with Vaze on February 27, 28 and March 2. On March 2, Hiran told me that, Vaze had asked him to submit a complaint to the Chief Minister, Home Minister and Police Commissioners of Thane and Mumbai and he had done so." She goes on to add that when she asked her husband whether he had been tortured by police during questioning, he denied the same.
Claiming that the last time she spoke with her husband was a day before his body was found, Vimla claims Hiran told her that Vaze had asked him to get arrested claiming "he would ensure he was released on bail in a few days." Supporting this, Vimla states, "On March 4, my husband asked me to speak to a lawyer regarding anticipatory bail as he might be arrested. But to this the lawyer said anticipatory bail will not be accepted as he has not even been named as an accused in the case."
SACHIN VAZE: CONTROVERSIAL PAST
Sachin Hindurao Vaze, aged 49, was posted with the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Mumbai Crime branch and the lead investigating officer in the case of the vehicle found outside Ambani's house, Antilia.
This is not the first instance where Vaze, known in police circles as an 'encounter specialist', has found himself mired in controversy. Joining the force in 1990 as a sub-inspector, his first posting was the naxal affected area of Gadchiroli. Within two years in 1992, Vaze was transfered to the Thane city police and then the Special Squad of Thane crime branch, where his monicker of being an encounter specialist was born and remained. In 2000, Vaze made into entry into the Mumbai police, joining the Powai unit of the Mumbai crime branch. Here, he had his first brush with controversy after being charged with murder of 27-year-old Khwaja Yunus, an accused in the Ghatkopar blast of December 2, 2002.
Yunus and three others were arrested for their alleged role in the Ghatkopar blast case where a bomb placed under the seat of a BEST bus, parked outside Ghatkopar railway station, exploded. The incident left two dead and several injured. Yunus who was arrested died in custody with his co-accused alleging that he was stripped and severely assaulted by policemen questioning him. The investigation into the custodial head was conducted by the state Crime Investigation Department and in 2004, charged four policemen - Vaze, Sunil Desai, Rajendra Tiwari and Rajaram Nikam with murder and destruction of evidence.
Following the murder charge, Vaze was placed under suspension and after three years in 2007, resigned from the force. This resignation was reportedly not accepted but Vaze was also not reinstated. Vaze in 2008 then made his entry into politics joining Shiv Sena in the presence of late party supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Not much is written about his role in the Shiv Sena. On June 2020, Vaze, was finally reinstated into the force with the three other policemen charged with him in the alleged custodial death of Yunus.
Vaze has since investigated most of the high profile cases of 2020 which made national headlines including the TRP manipulation case involving Republic TV and the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). The Crime Branch Unit where Vaze was posted, filed a 3600 page chargesheet in the case, against Vikas Khanchandani, CEO of Republic TV, former CEO of BARC Partho Dasgupta and Romil Ramgarhia, former CCO of BARC. Vaze was part of the police team which went to Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami's house in November 2020 and arrested him in the case of designer Anvay Naik's suicide.
THE POLITICAL BATTLE SURROUNDING THE CASE
The case which started as a terror scare at the Antilia and then a murder has now taken a political turn with the Maharashtra government being accused of not conducting a fair probe and even protecting Vaze. The BJP has taken the issue to the floors of the Legislative Assembly and Council with leaders staging a demonstration and raising slogans like 'Ye Sarkar Khooni Hai' (This government is a murderer). Former chief minister Fadnavis has repeatedly demanded Vaze's arrest for his alleged involvement in the case. Facing heat over the issue, on March 10, Deshmukh in the legislative council, announced that Vaze would be transfered and the same was finalised with Vaze now posted at the Citizen Facilitation Centre (CFC) in the Mumbai police headquarters.
Given Vaze was a member of the Shiv Sena in 2008, Fadnavis recently claimed that Vaze was a member of Thackeray's party, the ruling government in the state. To this CM Thackeray said that, he had joined as a party member in 2008, but since then had not renewed his membership and added that Vaze had nothing to do with the Shiv Sena. Responding to questions by reporters about Vaze after the end of the budget session, Thackeray said investigation was on going and that the government had sought the Call Detail Record in the case to investigate. Adding that those guilty will not be spared Thackeray said, "Sachin Vaze is not Osama Bin Laden. It is not right to target a person and hang him and then investigate."
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