By Anand Singh and Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, April 8 (IANS) Spelling fresh trouble for the Maha Vikas Aghadi government (MVA) in Maharashtra, arrested Mumbai Police crime branch officer Sachin Vaze has opened up a Pandora’s Box by accusing former Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Transport Minister Anil Parab of pressuring him to extort money from the contractors of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and illegal tobacco factories and bars in the city.
Vaze’s explosive letter bomb comes in the wake of the flak the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress-Shiv Sena government is facing from the opposition BJP in connection with the cases related to the explosive-laden SUV found outside the residence of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and the subsequent mysterious death of Mumbai-based businessman Mansukh Hiren.
In the handwritten letter to the Special NIA Court dated April 3, a copy of which has been viewed by IANS, Vaze has claimed that NCP chief Sharad Pawar was against his reinstatement into Mumbai Police in 2020 and wanted it to be revoked, 16 years after he was suspended in March 2004. However, senior officials of the NIA remained tightlipped on the authenticity of Vaze’s letter.
In the letter, Vaze, the then chief of Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU), said that Deshmukh had told him that if he paid Rs 2 crore to him, “he would convince Pawar to allow him back into the force”.
“I had expressed my inability to pay such an amount. On this, the home minister asked me to pay it in a later course,” Vaze wrote.
Vaze further claimed that Deshmukh had called him to the Sahyadri Guest House in October 2020 and asked him to collect Rs 3-3.5 lakh each from 1,650 bars and restaurants in Mumbai.
“I refused by saying that it was not within the scope of my capability,” Vaze claimed in his letter, adding that as far he knew, there were only 200 bars in Mumbai and not 1,650, as anticipated by Deshmukh.
Vaze also alleged that soon after he came out of the meeting with Deshmukh, his PA Kundan had advised him that he must comply with the instructions of the minister if he wished to keep his job and post intact.
Vaze also said that Deshmukh made the same demand again in January 2021, when the two met at the former minister’s official bungalow.
Vaze in his letter also claimed that Maharashtra Transport Minister and Shiv Sena leader Anil Parab had asked him to extort money for him.
“In July-August 2020, I was called by Minister Anil Parab at his official bungalow… At the meeting, Parab asked me to look into the complaint under preliminary inquiry and bring the trustees of the SBUT to him for negotiations about the inquiry. He also insisted to initiate primary talks to get Rs 50 crore from SBUT in order to close the said enquiry. I had expressed my inability to do any such thing as I do not know anybody from SBUT and also I did not have any control over the inquiry,” Vaze told the NIA in his letter.
Vaze further claimed that Parab called him again in January 2021 and asked him to look into an inquiry against some contractors listed in the BMC and collect Rs 2 crore each from them.
“He told me to collect at least Rs 2 crore each from 50 such contractors. An inquiry was on in this matter based on an anonymous complaint. The Crime Intelligence Unit inquiry against the contractors had not yielded any result,” Vaze claimed in his letter.
Vaze, who was arrested on March 13 in connection with the explosive-laden SUV found outside Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani’s residence on February 25, said that he had informed the then Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh about the extortion demands made by Deshmukh and Parab.
“…I met the Police Commissioner (Param Bir Singh) and expressed my apprehension about this… I told him that I would be embroiled in a false controversy in the near future. The Commissioner encouraged me and categorically instructed me not to involve myself in any such illegal collection of money from anyone and for anyone,” Vaze wrote.
Vaze is currently being investigated by the NIA in connection with the mysterious death of Mumbai-based businessman Mansukh Hiren, whose body was found from a Thane creek on March 5.
A Mumbai Court on Wednesday extended the remand of Vaze till April 9.
After the cases related to the explosive-laden SUV and the death of Hiren exploded in Maharashtra, Singh was shunted out from the top cop’s post and made the Commandant General of Home Guards.
After being shunted out as Mumbai Police Commissioner, Singh dropped a ‘letter bomb’ on March 20, accusing Deshmukh of asking Vaze and other Mumbai police personnel to extort Rs 100 crore ‘monthly’ from bars, hotels and restaurants in the city.
Earlier in the day, Singh had appeared before the NIA in connection with the case.
The Bombay High Court on Monday ordered a CBI preliminary enquiry against Deshmukh. The court also asked the CBI to complete the probe within 15 days, following which the CBI registered a PE on Tuesday night. Two teams of the agency have already arrived here from Delhi.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on April 8 questioned arrested Mumbai Police officer Sachin Vaze, former city Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and two others in connection with the preliminary enquiry it registered for the probe into allegations of corruption against former state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to entertain petitions by the Maharashtra government and former state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, challenging the Bombay High Court order directing a preliminary enquiry by the CBI into corruption allegations levelled by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta said: “We are of the view that the nature of allegations, the personas involved and the seriousness of the allegations do require an independent agency to enquire into the matter. It is a matter of public confidence given the factual scenario.”
The bench noted that the High Court has only ordered a preliminary enquiry, albeit by an independent agency, and again stressed that matter is serious.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Maharashtra government, argued that the High Court passed the order without examining maintainability of petitions. The High Court adopted a very unusual procedure while ordering a CBI probe against the then Home Minister based on Singh’s allegations, he added.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at email@example.com and Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Anand Singh and Quaid Najmi