A scheduled visit of industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s wife Nita Ambani Jamnagar in to Gujarat was rescheduled and then cancelled on his and the zonal Deputy Commissioner of Police’s advice after the recovery of an explosives-laden SUV outside their house ‘Antilia’ in south Mumbai in February this year, the security head of the residence has said in his statement to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Another security guard working near ‘Antilia’, in his statement to the NIA has said, since that day, residents of nearby buildings “have not seen the same fear free atmosphere as before”.
“I would like to say that the incident has created a fear in my mind. It is definitely scary for us that an explosive substance like gelatin was found in a suspicious vehicle near our building,” the guard said in his statement to the NIA.
The NIA has in its charge sheet also said that the dismissed police officer Sachin Vaze, the prime accused in the ‘Antilia’ bomb scare case, had told his official driver, who was with him on the day of the incident, that it was a “secret operation”.
The statements are part of a charge sheet filed last week by the NIA before a special court here against Vaze and nine others in connection with the recovery of the vehicle with gelatin sticks near Mr. Ambani’s residence on February 25, and the subsequent murder of Thane-based businessman Mansukh Hiran.
The residence’s security head in his statement to the NIA said that after the vehicle with explosives and a threat letter were found, he had immediately brought it to the notice of Mr. Ambani.
The security head further stated they had been receiving threats from various quarters, but all were related to farmers’ protest that began in October 2020.
The Ambani family does not suspect any particular person for the threat letter and gelatin sticks found in the abandoned Scorpio parked illegally on Carmichael Road here on February 25, he said in the statement.
The guard further said that they had strengthened the CCTV and security surveillance in the area.
Vaze’s official driver, who was with him on the day when the explosives-laden SUV was placed near Mr. Ambani’s residence, told the NIA in his statement that Vaze told him it was a “secret operation”.
The driver narrated the entire sequence of events leading to the planting of the vehicle near Mr. Ambani’s house on the intervening night of February 24 and 25.
He told the probe agency that at around 5.30 p.m. on February 24, he had driven Vaze to the ‘Dnyaneshwari’ bungalow, official residence of the then Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Vaze went inside the residence alone and returned in about an hour, the driver said.
The driver further stated that Vaze asked him to change the number plates of the Mahindra Scorpio, the explosives-laden vehicle which was placed outside Mr. Ambani’s residence, and an Innova car, multiple times.
He also told the NIA that Vaze had asked him to take specific routes and pay toll plazas.
“At about 2.10 a.m., I was following the Scorpio car driven by Vaze at a very slow speed on Carmichael Road. At a particular point, he stopped the Scorpio and parked it on the left side of the road,” the driver stated.
“Accordingly, I also stopped my Innova car at a distance of about 40 to 50 meters behind the Scorpio,” he added.
The driver further stated that he returned to the Innova car after about five minutes and removed his face mask and shield. Vaze then asked him to drive ahead, and after a while the former API (Assistant Police Inspector) realised that his identity card was missing and asked the driver to check in the car (Innova), but it wasn’t found.
As per the driver’s statement, they then came to Vaze’s residence in the neighbouring Thane district, where Vaze went inside to search for his identity card. However, he returned after about 20 minutes and told the driver that he had probably forgotten the card in the Scorpio.
At around 4.30 a.m., they returned to the Carmichael Road, where Vaze went inside the Scorpio and returned after a while. Vaze then directed the driver to take him to Thane.
The driver also stated that Vaze had taken his phone and switched it off when he reported to duty (on February 24). It was returned only after he drove Vaze home, the driver told the NIA.
In his statement, the driver further said that when he enquired about the entire episode, Vaze told him it was a “secret operation”, and asked him not to reveal it to anyone.
“On February 26, I was attending the marriage ceremony of a colleague when I came to know about the incident from TV news channels. I was very scared on seeing the said news, but I did not tell this story to anyone,” he added According to the probe agency, Vaze, the prime accused in the case, had also played a “pivotal role” in the murder of businessman Mansukh Hiren.
Hiren’s son’s statement
Meanwhile, a day after a Scorpio with explosives was found, a statement by Meet Hiren, 20, in the NIA chargesheet, reads: “his father, Mansukh went to the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s office with Sachin Vaze on February 26 for three consecutive days”.
In his statement Mr. Meet Hiren said his father sold the said Scorpio to Vaze in November 2020 but it was returned in three months in February 2021 as he [Vaze] did not like the car. On February 17, Hiren told Mr. Meet that he had parked the Scorpio near Bhandup as it had developed some fault, but as it was not available at that spot, he was going to the police station to lodge a complaint.
On February 25, an Anti-Terrorism Squad official came to Hiren’s residence to enquire about the vehicle, which was found near Mr. Ambani’s residence the same day. After some time, another team of police officials came and took Hiren for cross questioning at the Vikroli Police Station.
According to Mr. Meet, “On February 26, 27 and 28, my father went with Sachin Vaze at around 11 a.m. and was dropped home at 10.30 p.m.” On all the three days Hiren went with Vaze to Mumbai’s Commissioner of Police’s office.
Mr. Meet went on to say, “On March 2, Hiren told him that he had gone with Vaze to meet a lawyer to file a harassment complaint addressed to the Chief Minister and Home Minister of Maharashtra, along with the Commissioner of Police of Mumbai and Thane against the police and officials from other agencies, as advised by Vaze.”
However, when Mr. Meet enquired with his father whether he was being harassed by the police as mentioned in the complaint, his father denied it.
On March 3, Hiren told his wife that Vaze had called him to his CIU (Criminal Intelligence Unit) office at Crawford Market, where he was advised to get himself arrested in the ‘Antilia’ case, and that Vaze would get him released in two to three days, stating that there was no evidence against him.
But the family decided that Hiren would not get arrested and that was communicated to Vaze. The next day, Hiren was called by Crime Branch Officer Tavde at 8.30 p.m. to Ghodbunder Road and when he did not return after 1 a.m., Hiren’s other brother Vinod called Vaze, who said he would enquire in the morning, but the next day, Hiren was found dead near Mumbra.
In his statement Mr. Meet Hiren says, “We are quite sure that my daddy was murdered and thrown in the creek and suspect Sachin Vaze is behind his murder.”
The statement also says: “On February 27, four to five Crime Branch officers came to the shop and collected the DVR of the CCTV installed in the shop from Hiren. However, after his death, when Meet inquired about the footage of the DVR, he was told, ‘it had been corrupted and no footage could be retrieved’.”
Besides Vaze and former police officer Pradeep Sharma, the other accused in the case are Vinayak Shinde, Naresh Gor Riyazuddin Kazi, Sunil Mane, Anand Jadhav, Satish Mothkuri, Manish Soni and Santosh Shelar.
Mr. Shinde, Mr. Kazi and Mr. Mane are former police officers.
The accused have been charged under various Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections, including for murder, criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance, as well as relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Arms Act.
The NIA in its charge sheet said Vaze placed the SUV with explosives near Mr. Ambani’s house here to regain his reputation as a “super cop”.
Hiren was subsequently killed as Vaze thought him to be the “weak link” in the conspiracy, the NIA said, alleging that Pradeep Sharma was roped in to execute the murder.
Hiren, who had claimed that the SUV had been stolen from his possession, was found dead in a creek in neighbouring Thane district on March 5.
( Inputs from PTI )