Tuesday, Jun 28, 2022

'Shoddy' Probe In Cruise-On-Drugs Case; NCB Team Tried To 'Implicate' Aryan Khan

Officials said that there were gaps at virtually every stage of this case's investigation.

'Shoddy' Probe In Cruise-On-Drugs Case; NCB Team Tried To 'Implicate' Aryan Khan
Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan Instagram

In a "shoddy" investigation with "underwhelming evidence", the Narcotics Control Bureau's (NCB) Mumbai team was just trying to "implicate" actor Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan in the drugs-on-cruise case, according to NCB's Special Investigation Team (SIT) that re-investigated the case.

The SIT found "grave irregularities" in the conduct of the NCB team that arrested Aryan and 19 others in October last year, such as not conducting mandatory medical test of the accused, not recording video their raids, or having no corroborative evidence against WhatsApp chats.

The NCB Director General SN Pradhan told PTI it was a case of "underwhelming evidence" as compared to the golden principle of gathering "overwhelming evidence" against the accused.

The NCB also said in a statement it applied "the touchstone of the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt" while re-investigating this case.

The NCB SIT had taken over the case in November last year as controversies began to surround the investigation, including an independent witness in the case alleging an extortion bid by those involved in the investigation.

The SIT on Friday filed a nearly 6,000-page charge sheet before a Mumbai court against 14 accused in this case. The SIT did not charge six, including Aryan, due to "lack of sufficient evidence". 

The chargesheet has a number of annexures like exhibits of a number of WhatsApp chats, statements of witnesses and accused and other technical details with the operative portion being about 400 pages. The court is expected to take its cognisance soon.

Pradhan told PTI, "The SIT found there was neither an intent to act nor there was actual act by those who have not been charged. We, however, have physical evidence in the case of the 14 accused."

Those who are not named and are given a clean chit in the chargesheet are Aryan, Samir Sehgal, Manav Singhal, Bhaskar Arora, Gopal Ji Anand and Avin Sahu.

The accused named in the chargesheet are Vikrant Chokkar, Mohak Jaswal, Ishmeet S Chadha, Gomit Chopra, Abdul Kadar Shaikh, Shreyas Surendra Nair, Manish Rajgarhia, Chinedu Igwe, Shivraj R Harijan, Nupur Satija, Okoro Uzeoma, Arbaaz Merchant, Mummun Dhamecha and Aachit Kumar.

These 14, according to NCB officers, have been charged by-and-large under sections that deal with consumption/possession of small quantities of drugs and conspiracy under the anti-narcotics law. These offences carry a punishment of about one year, officials said.

NCB officials said there were gaps in probe at virtually every stage of this case as they said "similar sections" of the NDPS were slapped against all of them while rounding them off from the cruise.

Like in the case of Avin Sahu, the NCB officer said, the accused had no drugs on his person but he "admitted" to have consumed drugs but then no medical test was done to corroborate that. In the case of Mohak Jaiswal, no drugs were found from him but it was found during SIT investigation that he "procured drugs" for his friends. Jaiswal, hence, has been chargesheeted.

The SIT also let off four of the cruise organisers as it went through the "contract" they had inked for organising the cruise party and it was found that they were only responsible for event management and had no knowledge about other things including personal frisking of the participants.

Pradhan said, "We have filed the charge sheet on the basis of whatever was found by our Special Investigation Team on the last date of filing the charge sheet."

He added that no "corroborative evidence" could be found against Aryan and five others who have been given a clean chit.

Asked if this was the end of the investigation in the case or will there be a supplementary chargesheet, Pradhan said, "As of now you can say, yes, the investigation is done but there are all possibilities in case some fresh set of facts come to light."

Talking about the role of Aryan, who spent 26 days in jail before getting bail in the case, NCB Deputy Director General (Operations) and SIT chief Sanjay Kumar Singh said the "basic premise" that his friend [Arbaaz Merchant] was carrying drugs for him has not been proven and was found to be "fallacious".

He said, "His friend [Arbaaz Merchant] denied that he carried drugs for Aryan Khan. In fact, he told the SIT that Aryan Khan had told him that no drugs should be brought on the cruise as NCB was very active."

He said no evidence was found against Aryan to corroborate that he either consumed, procured or was in any conspiracy, including international linkages with regard to narcotics, and hence the charges against him do not stand legal scrutiny.

While there was no evidence against Aryan in the current case, the chargesheet, according to officials, mentions his statement where he accepted "smoking ganja (cannabis)" and "doing charas" in the past.

The agency has also found his phone chats where he is talking about some drugs with his friends earlier, officials said.

The SIT chief said "no medical examination" was done by the NCB team after arresting him to prove if he consumed drugs.

He added "no videography" was done by the NCB team, under its then Mumbai zonal director Sameer Wankhede, of the raids conducted by the agency on the Cordelia cruise on the night of October 2-3 last year.

The SIT also found all the accused were not essentially inter-connected and so bracketed them under six-seven sub-groups in the charge sheet defining their limited roles.

Singh said Aryan's phone was seized but "legal procedures were not followed" while opening it. He added, "Right from the start the seizure of the mobile phone was questionable."

He said the statement of deceased witness in this case Prabhakar Sail was recorded by the SIT and he told them that he was "made to sign on blank papers" and he did not see the drugs seizure on the cruise. Sail had made allegations that NCB officials were probably looking to extort some money from Aryan's family in return for saving him.

The NCB called him hostile before he died in April. The cause of his death was reported to be a heart attack.

Another witness of the case who is in jail at present in a Maharashtra police case, Kiran Gosavi, supported the NCB action that was undertaken on that day in October, he said.

When asked if any action would be taken against the then Mumbai team headed by Wankhede, Pradhan said, "We cannot immediately jump to accuse the Mumbai unit. They must have had something and to probe this there is another SIT."

(With PTI inputs)