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Antilia case-Mansukh Hiran death probe: Gujarat trader’s statement recorded

Had provided SIM cards to accused; printer recovered from Mithi used to print threatening note to Ambanis: NIA
By Manish K Pathak and Faisal Tandel
PUBLISHED ON MAR 31, 2021 01:14 AM IST

A senior National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer said on Tuesday that they suspect that a printer recovered from the Mithi river on Sunday was used to print the threatening note addressed to the Ambanis, found along with 20 loose gelatin sticks in an SUV parked outside Antilia on February 25.

The federal agency had made a significant breakthrough in the case on Sunday, when with the help of divers, investigators recovered two digital video recorders (DVRs), two Central Processing Units, a laptop and two vehicle registration plates, among other evidence from Mithi river.

The NIA, which is also investigating a murder related to the explosives case, questioned a coal trader, Kishore Thakkar, from Ahmedabad and recorded his statement. The agency suspects that Thakkar had provided SIM cards to Naresh Gor, one of the two men arrested for murdering Thane businessman Mansukh Hiran, who is linked to the explosives laden Scorpio found outside Ambani’s residence last month.

The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS), which was investigating the murder case till NIA took over the related probe, had arrested Gor and a former policeman Vinayak Shinde in connection with Hiran’s murder. The state probing team however said that suspended Mumbai policeman Sachin Vaze was the mastermind of the murder.

“Thakkar had cleared in his statement about his relationship with Gor. He said he provided the SIM card in general friendship and was not aware about the serious crime. However, Thakkar was made the witness and NIA took his statement,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

NIA had recovered a chit containing 14 numbers related to the SIM cards, five of which were handed over to Vaze by Gor. The prosecutor added that a meeting had taken place between Vaze and Shinde in which they allegedly hatched the conspiracy to commit the murder.

Vaze, who is in NIA custody for allegedly planning the planting of the explosives-laden car outside Antilia last month, told a special NIA court last week that he was innocent, and had “nothing to do with the crime.”

The electronic evidence recovered from the river was damaged, reportedly by Vaze, who was the initial investigator in the explosive-laden car case in his capacity as the head of the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai Crime Branch.

An NIA officer said one of the recovered DVR was likely from Saket Complex at Thane where Vaze resided. He had purportedly collected the DVR and CCTV footage of the complex for the purpose of probe and under an official letter but had not included the same in the material seized the during the probe.

The electronics have been sent to a forensic laboratory in Pune for retrieval of data.

The NIA also found another high-end car allegedly owned by Vaze on Tuesday from Navi Mumbai. Preliminary probe has revealed that it was being used by a crime branch officer, assistant police inspector Prakash Howal, who reportedly purchased it from Vaze paying 1.50 lakh.

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