HC: No coercive action against Sameer Wankhede till April 10 on NCB notices | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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HC: No coercive action against Sameer Wankhede till April 10 on NCB notices

Apr 02, 2024 08:28 AM IST

The NCB has initiated two preliminary enquiries against Wankhede in the investigations undertaken by the agency into alleged drugs links of Bollywood after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput and in another case involving the arrest of a Nigerian national for drugs possession

MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Monday restrained the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) from taking any coercive action against Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Sameer Wankhede till April 10 after the agency had sent him fresh notices for alleged irregularities in two cases that he was investigating as Mumbai zonal director of the NCB.

Mumbai, India - January 06, 2023: Sameer Wankhede, former Mumbai zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
Mumbai, India - January 06, 2023: Sameer Wankhede, former Mumbai zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

The NCB has initiated two preliminary enquiries against Wankhede in the investigations undertaken by the agency into alleged drugs links of Bollywood after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput and in another case involving the arrest of a Nigerian national for drugs possession.

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Sources told HT that there were alleged irregularities in the arrest of a Nigerian drug peddler, from whom the agency had recovered cocaine. The NCB, Mumbai, sources claimed, had forced an accused arrested in a separate contraband seizure case and who was in the agency’s custody then, to pose as a customer and contact the Nigerian peddler on telephone in a bid to entrap the peddler. The Nigerian peddler was charge-sheeted in the case by the agency subsequently.

The second instance of alleged irregularity which is being probed pertains to a purported drug case involving the UK-based actress Sapna Pabbi who had worked with Sushant Singh Rajput in the 2019 film, Drive. Pabbi had been charge-sheeted by the NCB after the seizure of an alleged psychotropic substance (two strips containing 20 tablets of Clonazepam) from her Mumbai residence on October 21, 2020.

Pabbi subsequently complained through her lawyer to say that she had clarified to the then NCB probe team that she had the requisite medical prescription for the use of Clonazepam, and that she could give her explanation to the NCB over a video-conference but this was not taken into account by the agency.

Between November 2023 and March 2024 the NCB has issued 11 notices to Wankhede after which the IRS officer moved high court challenging the inquiry and the notices. He was being targeted by the NCB, he asserted and that the inquiry constitutes an ‘act of vengeance.’

Wankhede’s counsel, senior advocate Rajiv Chavan, argued in the Bombay High Court on Monday that the officer heading the enquiry, Sanjay Kumar Singh, cannot be impartial as he was Wankhede’s reporting officer in both the cases. Chavan emphasized that Wankhede had acted with approval from Singh and other superior officers, making Singh an interested party and hence unfit to lead the inquiry.

The senior advocate argued further that the NCB cannot initiate inquiries based on anonymous complaints, as stated in the agency’s Internal Operation Manual.

NCB’s counsel advocate Manisha Jagtap countered the argument saying that the inquiry was not solely based on anonymous complaints but also the agency’s internal observations of irregularities.

In his petition Wankhede counters Sapna Pabbi’s claims to say that she is listed as a wanted accused in the charge sheet filed in a drugs case and that the NCB’s reliance on allegations made by a wanted accused was ‘outrageous.’ The petition suggested it was a ploy by the NCB to damage his reputation.

In May 2023, Wankhede, a 2008-batch IRS officer belonging to the Customs and Indirect Taxes cadre, has been booked by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for allegedly trying to obtain a sum of 25 crore from Shah Rukh Khan in lieu of not implicating his son Aryan Khan in the Cordelia drugs bust case.

Subsequently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) also initiated a money laundering case against the IRS officer who has since obtained interim protection from any coercive measures in both cases.

After hearing both sides, the division bench of justices Revati Mohite Dere and Manjusha Deshpande directed the NCB to file its reply to Wankhede’s petition by April 10 and restrained the agency from taking any coercive action against him until then.

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