Hiran case: Another cop remanded to NIA custody
A special court on Friday remanded Mumbai Police inspector Sunil Mane, arrested in connection with Thane trader Mansukh Hiran’s murder, to the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) custody till April 28. Hiran is linked to the explosives-laden Scorpio found abandoned near billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s south Mumbai residence Antilia on February 25, an incident that ballooned into a huge political controversy, eventually resulting in the exit of the state’s home minister.
An NIA officer who asked not to be named said the agency summoned Mane for interrogation in connection with the Antilia and murder cases on Thursday and placed him under arrest on Friday.
He was produced before special judge Rahul R Bhosle. Advocate Prakash Shetty, appearing for NIA said the federal agency requested Mane’s custody to recover his phone and other personal devices and also to obtain his call data records. The agency claimed Mane was a part of the conspiracy to kill Hiran and had confessed to his role in the murder.
Mane’s counsel advocate Aditya Gore opposed the remand, claiming that his client was not involved in the murder and that the agency has no evidence against him, except his purpoted confession.
The special court accepted Shetty’s contention and remanded Mane to NIA custody.
The court also extended the judicial custody of two other accused, suspended police officer Sachin Vaze and his colleague at crime branch’s criminal intelligence unit (CIU) Riyazuddin Kazi, till May 5.
Mane was in charge of unit 11 of the crime branch till recently. He was transferred as a part of the clean-up drive undertaken by police commissioner Hemant Nagrale, after Vaze was arrested by NIA in the cases and posted at the local arms branch.
Vaze was originally in charge of the investigation of the explosives case, but removed after reports emerged of his links with Hiran, who was in possession of the SUV, and reported it stolen on February 17, 2021. Hiran himself was found dead in a creek on March 5. It subsequently emerged that Vaze had borrowed the car in November and returned it in early February.
NIA took over the explosives case on March 8 and the murder case on March 24. Vaze was named the main accused in both.
To contain the damage, the Maharashtra government transferred police commissioner Param Bir Singh for his management of his case. The police officer subsequently wrote a letter to the chief minister alleging that home minister Anil Deshmukh instructed Vaze to extort ₹100 crore from restaurants and bars, and when no action was forthcoming approached the courts.
The Bombay high court eventually asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the matter, prompting Deshmukh’s resignation.
According to NIA officers, Mane was under suspicion from the beginning, and a team from the agency visited the Kandivli unit of the crime branch where he was posted. The team inspected several vehicles parked at the office. The agency investigations, the officers said, already revealed that the person who made the last call Hiran received before he went missing, at 8.30pm on March 4, identified himself as a crime branch officer from Kandivli and drew the victim out of his Thane home on the pretext of a meeting along Ghodbunder Road. The following day, Hiran’s body was found in a creek at Reti Bunder near Mumbra with six handkerchiefs stuffed in his mouth and his face covered by a scarf.
NIA officers claimed that Mane was involved in the murder conspiracy. According to Shetty, he was placed under arrest after thoroughly verifying his role.The NIA officers said that Mane was present at CIU on March 3, when Vaze tried to convince Hiran to take the blame for placing the explosives-laden SUV near Antilia. According to NIA, Vaze assured Hiran that he would be out on bail soon. The plan to eliminate Hiran was allegedly hatched after he refused to take the blame, the officers added.
The NIA officer who asked not to be named said that at least two witnesses, a hotelier who visited CIU on March 3 and a deputy commissioner of police, also questioned by NIA , have corroborated that Mane was with Vaze at CIU office that day. The officer added that Mane was also present at the meeting attended by Vaze, arrested former constable Vinayak Shinde and another former officer before the murder at Chakala in Andheri.
NIA has so far arrested Vaze, assistant police inspector Kazi, Shinde and cricket bookie Naresh Ramniklal Gor in the two cases.