The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday conducted a search in a five star hotel in South Mumbai where suspended assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze, arrested for his alleged role in planting the explosive-laden Mahindra Scorpio found abandoned near billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s residence last month, was staying recently.
NIA officials said that a team conducted a search in a room in the Trident hotel at Nariman Point where Vaze reportedly resided from February 16 to February 20. Vaze reportedly booked the hotel room with a forged Aadhar card using his photograph with fictitious name, said an NIA official.
A senior official said that documents and CCTV footage have been recovered from the hotel.
“The case is being investigated by NIA and anti–terrorism squad (ATS). The probe is ongoing and we are extending our fullest cooperation,” a spokesperson of the hotel said.
A Mumbai Police officer said that those dates coincided with the time when Vaze was part of a team that raided various establishments in Mumbai at night for violations of licence conditions such staying open at night beyond allowed hours, among other reasons.
Vaze also reported for work at the crime intelligence unit of the Mumbai crime branch during those dates.
The NIA team seized some documents from the hotel room, but it is not clear what the documents pertain to as yet. The team has also seized the CCTV footage from the hotel to probe who all met Vaze at the hotel.
On March 13, Vaze, who was the lead investigator in the case, was arrested by NIA which took over the probe earlier this month. Vaze has also been named prime accused in the murder of Mansukh Hiran, a 48-year-old Thane businessman who was linked to the Scorpio.
An NIA team visited Hiran’s home to record the statements of his wife Vimala and other family members.
The Union home ministry had transferred the murder probe, currently being conducted by the Maharashtra ATS, to NIA on March 20. “The NIA had come home to explain us the status of their investigation and informed that they will take all the details from ATS in the coming days. As of now they haven’t officially filed any case in the murder of my brother. They told us that they will come to meet us in next two days with more information on the case. They have not shed light on the role of Shinde or the bookie to us. They stayed for a short time and left,” Hiran’s brother Vinod said.
ATS had on Sunday arrested two persons in connection with Hiran’s murder: a former constable Vinayak Shinde and a bookie Naresh Gor. Shinde, convicted in an encounter killing, was released on parole last year during the decongestion of prisons due to the pandemic.
Vinod claimed that Hiran’s family is satisfied with the pace of the investigation and hope it will be resolved soon.
A Scorpio that Hiran had been driving for three years and reported stolen on February 18, was found parked outside Ambani’s residence Antilia on February 25. It had 20 sticks of gelatin (but no detonator or timer) and a threatening letter addressed to Ambani.
Vimla’s statement to the ATS revealed that Vaze had borrowed this car from Hiran last year, and returned it to him on February 5.
Hiran reported the car stolen on February 18. On February 25, the car was found parked outside Antilia with two identical sets of three different registration number plates kept beneath the rear seat of the vehicle, and its own engine number and body number of the vehicle removed. Even the chassis number embossed on the car near right front wheel was wiped out.
The Gamdevi police registered an FIR in the case on multiple charges. On March 7, on the basis of a statement given by Vimala, ATS registered a murder case against an unknown person and started the probe. The next day, NIA took over the probe into the Gamdevi FIR after orders from the Union home ministry..
Who is Shinde?
In 2013, a Mumbai sessions court had awarded life sentences to 21 people, including 13 Mumbai Police personnel, for an encounter killing of a gangster named Lakkhan Bhaiyya (Ramnarayan Gupta) in 2006. Gupta was a member of the dreaded Chota Rajan gang.
One of the policemen convicted was Vinayak Shinde, 55, a constable, who was released on parole last year in the state’s drive to decongest prisons during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shinde is one of the co-accused, along with bookie Naresh Gore and prime suspect Sachin Vaze, a suspended assistant inspector currently in custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), in the murder of Thane businessman Mansukh Hiran.
According to investigators of the state Anti Terrorism Squad, Shinde took care of Vaze’s “illegal dealings in Thane and Kalwa areas” and executed the murder of Hiran on Vaze’s behest.
Shinde was in Mumbai Crime branch in the mid 2000s and had a good network in Mumbai as well as Thane. “Shinde has a good network across Thane and also has connections with local goons,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
One of Shinde’s family members said that after he came out of parole, he would stay home. Shinde celebrated his birthday on March 11 with his family at his house.
With inputs from Anamika Gharat