Abdul Lateef and Bhopal Man alias Yusuf Nepali, convicted in 2008 for life in the 1999 Kandahar plane-hijack case, were acquitted in a dacoity and arms case by a Sessions Court here on Wednesday. A third accused in the dacoity case, Mushtaq Ahmed Azmi, was also acquitted.
Lateef and Yusuf Nepali were part of a five-member group, which was arrested in December 1999 from different locations in Mumbai's Jogeshwari suburb. A cache of arms comprising AK-56 assault rifles, revolvers, hand-grenades, rocket launchers and bomb-making material was recovered from the members.
The other three partners were Mushtaq, and Pakistan nationals Asif alias Babloo and Haji Mohammad Iqbal.
The group was arrested for robbing a cooperative bank in suburban Borivali in October 1999, two months prior to the hijack incident. It was alleged that part of the stolen sum of over Rs.7 lakh was used by the IC-814's hijackers. However, lawyers in the robbery case said this claim was not tenable.
“This claim did not even stand in the Patiala court [where Lateef and Nepali faced trial in the hijack case],” Nepali's lawyer Subhash Kanse told The Hindu.
Lateef, Nepali and Mushtaq were acquitted of charges of criminal conspiracy, common intention, dacoity and wrongful confinement under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, and under the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act. “They shall be released forthwith if not required in any other case,” the court ruled.
The Pakistanis pleaded guilty and were convicted to eight years of imprisonment in the robbery case by another Sessions Court in Mumbai in 2007.
Defence lawyer Wahab Khan said the prosecution's case had slipped on many counts. The ‘panch' witness, while deposing before the court, had said he was testifying as per the instructions of the police. Secondly, contradictions emerged in the testimonies of two investigating officers.