Antilia explosives scare case: HC rejects Pradeep Sharma’s bail plea
The division bench of justice Revati Mohite Dere and justice Prithviraj Chavan held that based on confessional statements of the co-accused and the deposition of witnesses it was clear that Sharma was close to the accused who murdered Hiran by smothering and then disposing of his body.
Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Monday dismissed the bail plea filed by former encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, arrested in connection with the Antilia explosives scare and murder of Thane trader Mansukh Hiran.
The division bench of justice Revati Mohite Dere and justice Prithviraj Chavan held that based on confessional statements of the co-accused and the deposition of witnesses it was clear that Sharma was close to the accused who murdered Hiran by smothering and then disposing of his body. The court further held that as Sharma was a former cop, there was a possibility of tampering with the evidence and influencing witnesses, hence his application was rejected.
In its 53-page order, the court also said that Shama’s complicity in the crime was very obvious. “The material on record, prima facie, points to the complicity of the appellant (Sharma) in the murder of Mansukh Hiran. The possibility of the appellant, a retired police officer, having clout, tampering with the witnesses cannot be ruled out,” said the court.
Based on the above observations the bench stated that it was not a fit case to enlarge the appellant on bail and hence the appeal was dismissed.
Sharma approached the HC after the special NIA court rejected his bail application on February 16, 2022.
In his appeal against the special court order, Sharma through senior advocate Aabad Ponda had argued that Sharma was not involved in the murder of Hiran. He had submitted that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) did not have any proof to show that he was the main conspirator in the terror act of placing the gelatine-laden SUV outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s residence, Antilia, and elimination of Mansukh Hiran, the owner of the SUV.
Additional solicitor general Anil Singh had opposed the bail plea on behalf of NIA and stated that the call data records of Sharma and dismissed police officer Sachin Waze, a prime accused, showed that they were in constant touch with each other during the period in which the vehicle was parked outside Antilia and Hiran was eliminated.
In its affidavit in reply to Sharma’s bail plea, the NIA had stated that Waze had hatched a conspiracy to harass the Ambani family by placing the explosive-laden SUV outside Antilia on February 25.
Waze – the then head of the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) – had called Hiran to his office and asked him to take the blame for placing the car, however after Hiran refused to do so, Waze contacted Sharma and paid him around ₹45 lakh to get the Thane trader eliminated. Sharma allegedly arranged for the people to eliminate Hiran and helped them flee the country after the 48-year-old trader was killed on the night of March 4, 2021.
The NIA had relied upon the statements of co-accused Santosh Shelar and Manish Soni as well as other witnesses to show that Sharma was in constant touch with them both before and after the murder.
“The appellant willingly and intentionally entered into a well-organised criminal conspiracy for the execution of the murder of Mansukh Hiran, which was a direct outcome of the terrorist act committed by co-accused Sachin Waze and others,” the NIA added in its affidavit.
Why NIA did not investigate CP, asks HC
HC has also questioned, why the NIA did not investigate the then Commissioner of Police, Mumbai – Param Bir Singh, though he had paid a sum of ₹5 lakh from the Secret Service Fund of the Mumbai police to a cyber security professional for a one-page report on a telegram channel post related to planting of the explosives-laden SUV outside Antilia – the South Mumbai residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani.
The court referred to the statement given by the cyber security professional, Ishaan Sinha, to the NIA, explaining in detail, how the then police commissioner had on March 9, 2021, asked him to give a report on the Telegram channel on which Jaish-ul-Hind had claimed responsibility for planting the explosives-laden car outside Antilia. According to his statement, though Sinha had not sought any payment for the one-page report that he gave mailed to then CP, Sharma asked his assistant to pay him an amount of ₹5 lakh from the SS Fund, but the episode has not been investigated by the NIA.
“Why such a huge payment was made to the said witness i.e. Cyber Expert, what was the interest of the CP, is a grey area, for which there are no answers,” said the court.
HC also expressed dissatisfaction about the probe, as the federal agency had failed to name people who conspired with Waze to plant the SUV outside Antilia. “In a case of this magnitude, it is highly impossible that Waze himself would be involved, without the help, assistance or maybe, the guidance of some others,” said HC. “We find that the NIA has not investigated with regard to the same i.e. with respect to the co-conspirators involved in the planting of gelatine sticks in the Scorpio vehicle,” it added.