Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Vaze in NIA custody till Mar 25; focus on 2nd car

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A special court on Sunday remanded assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze to the National Investigation Agency’s custody till March 25 after the central agency arrested him late on Saturday for his alleged role in planting explosives in a vehicle found parked outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s house on February 25.

Vaze was summoned at the agency’s Mumbai office at Cumballa Hill in south Mumbai around 11:30am on Saturday to record his statement after 20 unassembled gelatin sticks were discovered along with a threat letter in a Scorpio parked outside Ambani’s residence. He was arrested at 11:50pm the same day after an official said he confessed to his involvement in planting the car.

On Sunday, NIA seized a white Innova car used by officers of the crime intelligence unit (CIU), which was headed by Vaze before he was moved out pending investigations. An official aware of the developments said the car appeared to be the same Innova that tailed the Scorpio on the night it was parked on Carmichael Road at a spot across the street from Ambani’s residence. CCTV footage from a nearby departmental store showed that an Innova remained parked behind the Scorpio for a few hours and then left, bearing the Scorpio driver.

Vaze’s lawyers denied NIA’s claims and his alleged admission to his role in parking the explosives-laden car outside Ambani’s residence, Antilia. Vaze moved the Bombay high court challenging the grounds of his arrest, and the special NIA court will take up the matter on Monday after the prosecution refused to give Vaze a copy of his remand application citing privilege and confidentiality.

Vaze’s advocate Sudeep Pasbola told news agency PTI that the arrest has been made only on the basis of suspicion and that there was no concrete evidence against him.

After questioning him for several hours on Saturday, NIA arrested Vaze under sections 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance), 465 (punishment for forgery), 473 (making or possessing counterfeit seal), 506(2) (criminal intimidation, if threat be to cause death or grievous hurt), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 4(a)(b) (1) (punishment for attempt to cause explosion, or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life or property) of the Indian Explosives Act, 1908.

According to a top NIA official who did not wish to be named, Vaze confessed to being part of a group that placed 20 loose gelatin sticks (unassembled, without a detonator or a timer) in a green-coloured Scorpio that was found parked outside Antilia.

NIA, while seeking Vaze’s custody for 14 days, told the court that it received inputs about his role in placing gelatin sticks in the SUV and that when he was questioned about it, he admitted his involvement.

Vaze, who was part of the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Crime Branch, was one of the lead investigators of the case before it was transferred to the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad.

The developments linked to Vaze have triggered a political slugfest in Maharashtra, with the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Chandrakant Patil on Sunday holding chief minister Uddhav Thackeray responsible for the entire episode. The Shiv Sena has denied allegations made by the opposition.

NIA further submitted that the investigation being conducted by Vaze was flawed. In its remand plea, NIA submitted witnesses’ statements to show Vaze’s alleged involvement in the case. The central agency also told the court that his custodial interrogation was required to unearth the conspiracy and gather evidence.

NIA is also scrutinising the mobile call data records of Vaze and other people close to him in the police department and outside, another official said. “The NIA has also been interrogating another officer, API Riyaz Kazi, and a police constable from CIU who were allegedly close to Vaze,” the NIA official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vaze is also under investigation for his alleged role in the suspicious death of 48-year-old Mansukh Hiran, a Thane-based auto spare parts businessman who was linked to the Scorpio found parked outside the Ambani residence in South Mumbai. The case is being probed by the ATS.

(Inputs from agencies)

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