UAPA slapped on Sachin Vaze in Antilia case
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has invoked sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law, against Sachin Vaze, the Mumbai Police assistant inspector who is the main accused in the Antilia explosives case. NIA officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that after interrogating Vaze for the past 12 days, speaking to several Mumbai Police officers and witnesses, and analysing technical evidence, they have managed to piece together the sequence of events behind the case that has caught the nation’s attention.
NIA has used sections 16 and 18 of the anti-terror law against Vaze, claiming that an individual/or group of persons planning such a conspiracy can be booked under terror charges. The two sections deal with conspiring to commit a terror act. It will now seek Vaze’s further custody under UAPA on March 26, when he is produced in court.
On February 25, a green Scorpio was found parked outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence in south Mumbai. It contained a bag with 20 loose sticks of gelatin (with no detonator or timer) and a threatening letter addressed to Ambani. NIA took over the probe into the explosives case on March 9 and arrested him on March 13.
Officials said the agency has established that the conspiracy was planned by Vaze as his “comeback” case. HT reported on March 17, citing unnamed NIA officials, that Vaze orchestrated the incident to prove his worth to the police top brass. NIA officials claimed he wanted to regain his lost reputation due to a suspension in 2004, related to a custodial death. Vaze was only reinstated in 2020, after an alliance of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, and the Congress (the MVA or Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi) came to power. And he tripped up, the officials contended, because of his overconfidence.
Sharing details, one NIA officer said, “As part of his plan to produce a sensational case in Mumbai and then solve it in record time, the arrested assistant police inspector, who was in charge of the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU), asked businessman Mansukh Hiran to leave his Scorpio on the highway on February 17.”
Hiran, an auto parts dealer, was previously known to Vaze, who had borrowed the same vehicle between November and the first week of February. Investigations have revealed that Vaze used to borrow cars, especially luxury vehicles, from dealers.
“Hiran, after leaving the car on Mulund-Airoli Road, met Vaze near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus the same day, and handed over the keys as asked by the officer. Vaze then asked Hiran to lodge a complaint (of a missing car) with the police, which Hiran filed on February 18,” the first officer said.
From February 17 till February 25, the Scorpio was with Vaze and his associates in CIU, investigations revealed.
On February 25, a second NIA investigator said, Vaze and a constable of CIU went in a convoy of two cars — the Scorpio and an Innova — to Carmichael Road around 2:20am to drop the Scorpio, laden with gelatin sticks, near Ambani’s residence, Antilia. A threat letter, addressed to Ambani and his wife, had already been placed beforehand in the vehicle. “Vaze and the constable took turns to drive Scorpio and then they returned in the Innova,” the officer said.
“But, around 4.30am, Vaze returned to the spot to check the Scorpio as he thought he had left his identity card in it by mistake,” the second officer added. This visit, NIA officials said, has been established by CCTV footage from Mulund toll naka, where the Innova can be seen re-entering Mumbai from Thane around 4am after leaving the city about half-an-hour earlier.
NIA officials said the agency will likely make the constable, whom they did not name, a witness rather than charge him in conspiracy. They added that the constable has confirmed the role of Vaze in the conspiracy.
Once he was made the investigating officer of the case, Vaze asked Hiran to take the rap, but the latter demurred, said a third NIA officer.
NIA officials believe that Vaze’s plan was to create some link between Hiran (once he confessed) and some Pakistani terror group or suspect, to make it look like a conspiracy planned by Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence. The officials admitted that this remains a theory that is yet to be proved.
The NIA officials said they cannot comment on Hiran’s murder — his body was found in a creek on March 5— because the Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) is yet to hand over the case. ATS, which on Wednesday was asked to do so by a Thane court, claims to have solved the case. At a press conference on Tuesday, ATS said that Vaze was the “mastermind” behind the murder, which was carried out by Naresh Gor (a bookie) and Vinayak Shinde (former constable).
NIA officials said they have Vaze’s call records, showing multiple calls to and from with Hiran in February and much before that. They also claim to have his location data, his presence at various locations as seen in CCTV footage, and testimony from witnesses.
NIA officials said the agency is still probing the role of officers from CIU and Mumbai Police in general, including assistant police inspector Riyazuddin Kazi, a close associate of Vaze in CIU who has already been questioned, and others.
The officials added that their investigation has revealed the influence Vaze, a former encounter specialist (a colloquialism used to describe policemen who shoot down gangsters in encounters, real and staged) enjoyed in Mumbai Police — far in excess of what an assistant inspector usually would. Vaze, a member of the Shiv Sena, made no effort to hide either his pelf (he used to occasionally drive to work in a Mercedes SUV that has been seized by NIA), or his power (he was close to several politicians, and former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh).
Tracking Vaze, NIA has also found CCTV footage from several five-star hotels where the policeman used to stay for days on end. NIA officials say he made a lump sum payment of ₹13 lakh to one of the hotels for a total of 100-days stay. “We have information this hotel and others were used for illegal financial dealings of Vaze and extortion activities,” the second NIA officer said.
Vaze has given misleading answers to NIA for the past 12 days and has claimed that he is being framed by his rivals in Mumbai Police. He is also yet to disclose where he got the gelatin sticks from.