Antilia explosives scare, Mansukh Hiran murder: Custody of 2 more accused extended till July 1
A special court on Monday extended the National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody of Satish Mothukari and Manish Soni – arrested on June 17 in connection with the Antilia explosives scare and the subsequent murder of Thane trader Mansukh Hiran – till July 1.
Special judge Prashant Sitre extended the NIA custody of the duo after the federal agency informed the court that it needs to probe the source of the huge sums of cash recovered from them.
Meanwhile, three other accused – Santosh Shelar, Anand Jadhav and former encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma – have been remanded in judicial custody till July 12, as the NIA did not seek their further custody.
According to NIA, Mothukari – also known as Tanni or Vicky Baba – Soni, Shelar and Jadhav had smothered Hiran in a red car along Ghodbunder Road in Thane on March 4 and dumped his body in a creek near Mumbra. The 48-year-old auto parts dealer was allegedly killed at the behest of Sharma and former Mumbai cop Sachin Vaze.
Mothukari and Soni were produced before the special court as their earlier NIA custody ended on Monday. The agency sought their five-day remand for “finding out certain missing links in the conspiracy.”
NIA prosecutor informed the court that after murdering Hiran, the duo had travelled to various places in India and also went abroad. The agency wants to find out who funded their travel.
The prosecutor added that their further custody was also required to trace the objects used to allegedly smother Hiran as well as Hiran’s missing belongings –a mobile phone, watch, wallet and credit and debit cards.
Soni’s lawyer, advocate Rahul Arote, opposed the plea for the extension of the NIA custody, contending that there was no change in the grounds for additional custody. Arote pointed out that Soni runs a garment business and frequently travels abroad, and the NIA can check his passport to verify which foreign places he had visited. He argued that it cannot be a ground for extending Soni’s custody.
Sharma’s lawyer urged the court to direct the jail authorities to send him to Thane prison for security reasons, claiming that the former encounter specialist apprehended threats to his life. He will, however, be lodged in Taloja jail. But the special court has directed the jail superintendent to take appropriate care to ensure Sharma’s security.
On February 25, an SUV was found abandoned near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s home Antilia with 20 lose gelatin sticks and a threatening note. On March 5, Hiran – the owner of the SUV – was found dead in a creek near Mumbra, with six handkerchiefs stuffed in his mouth and his face covered by a scarf.
Vaze was originally in charge of the investigation of the Antilia case, but was removed after reports emerged of his links with Hiran, who had reported the SUV stolen on February 17.
NIA had arrested Vaze on March 13, claiming that he was the mastermind behind the explosives scare and Hiran’s murder. NIA investigators said that Vaze had planned the Antilia explosives scare in a bid to “regain lost glory” in the police force as he had been suspended in March 2004 for his involvement in a custodial killing case, and reinstated a year later.
NIA further alleged that Hiran was killed after he refused to take the blame for planting the SUV and getting arrested in the case.
Vaze, who is currently in custody, has denied the charges to the court.