Aryan exonerated in drugs on cruise case
The Cordelia drugs bust case may have well reached an anticlimactic end on Friday with the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) clearing Aryan Khan, son of actor Shah Rukh Khan, and five others; filing cases against 14 others, but maintaining that it was an “ordinary drugs case” not a conspiracy as was made out; and admitting that the legal procedures were not followed while conducting the raid, or recording witness statements or collecting evidence.
Shortly after, the Union government asked for the initiation of action against Sameer Wankhede, the controversial and high-profile zonal director of NCB at the time of the investigation, for the way it was carried out. Aryan Khan spent seven days in NCB custody and a further 21 days in jail.
HT first reported on March 2 that the Special Investigation Team set up by NCB to take over the case, found that Aryan Khan was innocent. The SIT, under NCB’s deputy director general (DDG), Sanjay Kumar Singh was reinvestigating the case for past seven months after allegations surfaced that attempts were made to extort money from Aryan Khan.
“SIT carried out its investigation in an objective manner. The touchstone of the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt has been applied. Based on the investigation carried out by SIT, a complaint (charge sheet) against 14 persons under various sections of NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act is being filed. Complaint against rest six persons is not being filed due to lack of sufficient evidence,” the agency said in a statement on Friday.
Based on NCB’s probe, the Centre has recommended action against Wankhede to the customs and excise department, the parent cadre of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer. Officials at North Block said action is also being taken against him in an alleged fake caste certificate matter.
To exonerate Aryan Khan, who was granted bail by Bombay high court on October 28, the SIT applied the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that an accused is presumed to be innocent and therefore, the burden lies on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused “beyond reasonable doubt”. The agency didn’t find any prosecutable evidence against him.
“We have not found any evidence to corroborate that he (Aryan Khan) consumed, procured or was part of any conspiracy, including (being part of an) international syndicate with regard to narcotics, and hence the charges against him do not stand legal scrutiny,” SN Pradhan, director general (DG) of NCB said.
Pradhan added that the case was an ordinary one of possession of drugs by 6-7 groups of people, who are not connected, and there was no meeting of minds as alleged earlier.
Reacting to the development, Aryan’s lawyer Satish Maneshinde said: “The arrest and detention of Aryan Khan for 26 days was unjustified, more particularly when he was not found in possession of any drugs , there was no evidence of any kind, there was no material of any nature or violation of any law, much less the NDPS Act. We are happy that the Special Investigation Team under Shri Sanjay Kumar Singh investigated the case in an objective manner and decided not to file a complaint (charge-sheet) against Aryan Khan for lack of sufficient evidence. God is Great. Satya Meva Jayate.”
Eight people including Aryan Khan, his friend Arbaaz Merchant, Ishmeet Chadha, Mohak Jaswal, Munmun Dhamecha, Vikrant Chokkar, Gimot Chopra and Nupur Sateja were arrested after a dramatic raid led by Wankhede on October 2. Over the next few days, 12 more people were arrested in separate raids at different places and 13 grams of cocaine, five grams of mephedrone, 21 grams of marijuana, 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy), and ₹1.33 lakh was recovered.
Relying on WhatsApp chats of Aryan Khan, Wankhede and his team claimed he was part of a larger international drugs conspiracy.
Pradhan said, “WhatsApp chats cannot alone be the basis for charges alone. It needs to be corroborated with physical evidence. The SIT was formed because there were irregularities in the investigation at the local level. There were some loopholes and the SIT was formed to fix them.”
The agency said on Friday: “All the (eight) accused persons (arrested on October 2) were found in possession of drugs except Aryan and Mohak.”
Singh said the basic premise of the arrest of Aryan Khan that his friend (Arbaaz Merchant) was carrying drugs for him has not been proven and was found to be “fallacious”.
Those given clean chit along with Khan include organizers of the cruise – Manav Singhal, Bhaskar Arora, Gopal Ji Anand and Avin Sahu, and Samir Sehgal.
Even though drugs were not found in possession of Mohak Jaswal, the agency has charge sheeted him as corroborative evidence has been gathered that he procured drugs for his friends.
Charging 14 people under various sections of NDPS Act, the agency said the WhatsApp messages, voice notes, voluntary statements of accused persons, chemical examination report from experts, forensic extraction of the digital devices from the expert and recovery of drugs made, demonstrates complicity of the involvement of these accused (except Aryan Khan, Avin Shau, Samir Sehgal, Gopal Ji Anand, Bhaskar Arora and Manav Singhal) in groups.
As reported by HT on March 2, SIT found that Aryan Khan was never in possession of drugs hence there was no need to take his phone and check his chats; the chats do not suggest Khan was part of any international syndicate; the raid was not video-recorded as mandated by the NCB manual; and the drugs recovered from multiple accused arrested in the case were shown as single recovery.
Shiv Sena member of Parliament Priyanka Chaturvedi said that “truth prevails” and slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for attempting to “demonise” Maharashtra by “misusing central agencies”.
The Nationalist Congress Party said that it was their minister Nawab Malik, who first questioned the entire action and intention of Sameer Wankhede, zonal director of NCB.
“The objections raised by NCP minister Nawab Malik regarding the way the entire raid was conducted and selection of witnesses having close affinity with BJP found valid,” the party said.
“Nawab Malik made serious allegations on the style of working of Sameer Wankhede thereby drew the ire of some powerful people in Delhi. Today he is paying the price for speaking the truth,” said Mahesh Tapase, chief spokesman, NCP. His reference is to Malik’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate.
Maharashtra BJP vice president Madhav Bhandari said, “I have not seen the entire charge sheet filed by the NCB. I think the agency must have explained its stand in the charge sheet over why Aryan Khan was arrested and why he was in jail. It is their duty to explain this. What Nationalist Congress Party and other ruling parties are saying is immaterial to us as it is their primary business to keep targeting us (BJP) on every single issue.”
Wankhede declined comment on the charge sheet.
Commenting on the Cetre’s move recommending action against him, Wankhede said that he was not aware of any such development. “I cannot comment on it, also because I am no longer in NCB.”