In a major setback to the crime branch, a designated court, on Thursday, dropped charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) levelled against four persons accused of killing criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi.
The accused will now be tried under ordinary provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Designated MCOCA judge RG Avachat dropped charges under the stringent legislation holding prima facie that the crime branch had failed to establish a connection between the four accused and purported leader of the gang, Bharat Nepali.
The judge also noted that the crime branch had failed to establish any motive or that the accused had made any financial gain - mandatory for slapping MCOCA provisions.
One of the four accused, Pintu Dhagle, had filed a plea challenging the application of MCOCA to the case. His lawyer Rajesh Shrivastav argued that the basic requirements for applying MCOCA were not fulfilled by the prosecution. He pointed out that the crime branch had failed to establish a link between the four accused and gang leader Bharat Nepali.
Besides, he had also submitted that the prosecution had not established one of the mandatory conditions of financial gain. The crime branch, on the other hand, maintained that all four accused had received money for allegedly murdering Azmi.
The crime branch had pointed out that money was transferred to their bank accounts and all had withdrawn the money. They maintained it was sufficient to prove the financial gain availed by the accused and further evidence could be gathered only after arresting Bharat Nepali.
Additional CP (crime) Deven Bharti said, "The crime branch has not yet received the order of the court. Once we receive it, we will go through it and in consultation with our legal experts, decide on a course of action."
The case will be tried in the ordinary sessions court from January 31.
Azmi was shot dead by unidentified persons at his Kurla residence on February 11 last year.
The crime branch, on February 16, arrested Devendra Bapurao Jagtap, 28, Pintu Devram Dhagle, 22, Vinod Yashwant Vichare, 32. Hasmukh Shankar Solanki, 32, was arrested on March 10. On March 17, the crime branch invoked MCOCA against the four. The police stated that during investigation, it had come out that the murder was a supari killing at the behest of two fugitive underworld gangsters - Bhagwant Singh alias Bharat Nepali and Vijay alias Bala Shetty.