THE ‘T' COMPANY
India Today|April 12, 2021
Thane emerges as a crucial link in Bombgate. The suspected cops in the case had all been posted in the satellite city to Mumbai’s north. The murderer and his victim lived there too
KIRAN D. TARE

Nearly a month after an explosi vesladen SUV was found parked a short distance from Mukesh Ambani’s residence, Antilia, all investigative leads seem to be converging in Thane, a satellite city north of Mumbai.

The two vehicles—a white Innova, allegedly driven by assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze, and the light-green Scorpio, allegedly driven by one of his aides—started towards South Mumbai from Thane, 30 km away, on February 24. On the intervening night of February 24-25, the Scorpio was left parked 500 metres away from the Ambani residence on Carmichael Road, with 20 sticks of commercial blasting gelatin and a note threatening the family inside the vehicle.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the central agency now probing the incident and the murder of the original Scorpio owner, businessman Mansukh Hiran, believes the conspiracy was hatched in Vaze’s fourth-floor office just two floors below the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s office at Crawford Market. Vaze headed the sensitive Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) within the crime branch, a team of 20 officers and 70 constables tasked with investigating crime across the city’s zonal jurisdictions.

Vaze and Hiran had known each other for five-odd years. Both lived in Thane, their houses just 4 km apart. Hiran ran a car decor shop near his house on Ambedkar Road, close to the Civil Hospital. He also had an office in Crawford Market, close to the police commissioner’s HQ.

Hiran left his shop on March 4 evening after receiving a WhatsApp call from one ‘Tawde’ of the Kandivali crime branch in connection with the Scorpio case. Hiran told his wife Vimal his ‘police friend’ would also be there at this meeting on Ghodbunder Road, a busy 15-km stretch that connects Thane to Mumbai’s northern suburbs. Ghodbunder or ‘horse port’ was where horses from the Middle East landed in Bombay centuries ago. Until a decade ago, this secluded highway flanked by dense forest on one side and the Thane creek on the other was a favourite spot for ‘encounter specialists’ to eliminate criminals. The highway has become gentrified since, with housing societies on either side and commercial complexes selling for a pricey Rs 12,000 per square feet.

The next day, on March 5, Hiran’s bloated body surfaced in the brackish waters of the Thane creek at Retibunder near Mumbra, around 10 km from his house, and 20 km from Ghodbunder where he was last spotted. Hiran’s hands were tied and his mouth stuffed with handkerchiefs. The spot from where his body was recovered can be seen from the unique ship funnel-shaped hilltop holiday home on Parsik Hill, built by the late actor Nutan and her naval officer husband Rajnish Behl in the 1960s.

It has been a month since Bombgate exploded, but we are nowhere closer to the truth. The NIA has not yet revealed Vaze’s motive in allegedly planting the Scorpio bomb or murdering Hiran. They don’t know yet whether the now-suspended cop was acting on his own or at someone’s behest. What we do know is that Vaze was reinducted into the force on June 6, 2020, on the recommendations of a committee headed by former Mumbai police chief Param Bir Singh. He was instantly made head of the CIU. Within a week, he was handed his first high-profile case—the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020. Vaze also investigated the suicide of architect Anvay Naik and the November 2020 TRP scam in which Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami is an accused.

The NIA is expanding its net of investigation with a clear focus on the Thane connections in the case. On March 30, the agency seized one seven-seat Mitsubishi Outlander from Kamothe in Navi Mumbai—the seventh vehicle to be recovered in this case. The SUV is registered in the name of one Sachin Vaze. The agency is trying to confirm if it’s the same Vaze who is in their custody. They will also investigate whether this is the car in which Hiran was smothered to death.

The agency, which took over the investigation of Hiran’s murder on March 24, believes the 48-year-old was killed because he refused to be a part of the Antilia conspiracy. When Vaze tried to tell him he would be arrested and bailed out soon, Hiran refused. He reportedly told Vaze his role was limited to handing over his Scorpio. He might even have hinted at revealing the conspiracy, which possibly sealed his fate.

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