J Dey murder was the most challenging case, says Mumbai crime branch cop who led probe
Former senior police inspector Ramesh Mahale, who was the chief investigator of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, spearheaded the investigation into the J Dey murder case. At the time, he was heading the unit 1 of the crime branch. In an interview with HT, he talks about challenges and breakthroughs in the case. Here are excerpts:
Q How was the investigation of the J Dey murder case different from other cases you had investigated?
It was perhaps the most challenging case in my career. While in the 26/11 case, evidence was available as Ajmal Kasab had been nabbed, this case had no leads. The only thing we were sure of was the job was performed by seasoned shooters. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for five bullets to find a target on a moving object. CCTV footage was of little help as it was raining on that day.
Q What was the turning point in the case?
Though our field intelligence offered little clue, it was the technical evidence gathered by a team of officers, including inspectors Arun Chavan, Shripad Kale, Ajay Sawant and Nandkumar Gopale, and assistant inspector Vilas Datir that finally put us on the trail of the suspects. While five of them were nabbed from south India, two more were rounded up from the interiors of Maharashtra.
Q What were the challenges the police faced during the investigation?
Firstly, the victim was a senior and well-respected journalist. We were under tremendous pressure to get a breakthrough when the government announced a Rs10-lakh reward for information on suspects. This was after a delegation of journalists met the state home minister over the issue. Side by side, eight petitions were filed in the high court, demanding that the CBI probe the case. We had to make three appearances in the high court in 15 days to file status report on the investigation. Fortunately, we managed to arrest the suspects before the court deadline.
Q Don’t you feel that trial has dragged on for long?
Considering the enormity of the case, I don’t think there was any delay. There were over 150 witnesses to be examined and bulk of evidence to be appreciated against the 12 accused. Moreover, Chhota Rajan’s evidence was added to the charge-sheet after he was brought to India in 2016. Finally, the trial had shifted from the MCOCA court to the special CBI court.
Q How different was the CBI case from the one you had presented?
There was no difference. The CBI had used most of our witnesses and evidence. They added some more, including the evidence of Chhota Rajan.
Q Do you think that the evidence against Chhota Rajan is good enough to secure his conviction?
From what I know, Chhota Rajan had claimed to journalists that he had done it. His voice was identified by those who are familiar with him. And if it wasn’t him (Rajan), why did he refuse to give his voice sample for analysis? Anyways, appreciation of evidence is the prerogative of the honourable court.
Q Doubts were raised over journalist Jigna Vora’s arrest?
Prima facie, there was evidence against her. We have intercepts of Rajan’s interview with journalists where he dropped her name. It was only after the prosecution concluded that there was a prima facie case against her, we arrested her five months after the first arrests.