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Bombay HC Directs Wankhede To Not Publish WhatsApp Chats

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The Bombay HC today extended the interim protection granted to former Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) officer Sameer Wankhede in Rs 25 Crore extortion case regarding the arrest of Aryan Khan in 2021.

The vacation bench of Justice Abhay Ahuja and Justice MM Sathaye extended its May 19 order asking CBI not to take any coercive steps against Wankhede, subject to his not publishing any material by way of WhatsApp chats or giving any press statement on the subject matter of petition or investigation.

Bombay HC

The court asked Wankhede to give an undertaking in that regard by evening.

The direction was made after Wankhede cited his alleged chats with actor Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan’s father, to counter the allegation of extortion against him in CBI’s FIR. He contended that Khan praised his integrity which would not have been the case had he actually made monetary demands to release Aryan Khan.

“You are before the court. When the matter is sub-judice, why have you circulated WhatsApp chats?”, the court asked.

The Bombay HC has also directed Wankhede to cooperate in the investigation. The matter is now listed on June 8. Meanwhile, CBI has been directed to file a reply to Wankhede’s petition by 3rd June.

Wankhede, currently an IRS Officer, has approached the Bombay HC challenging the FIR registered against him and five others by the CBI. The agency has accused them of demanding a bribe of Rs 25 crore from family members of those arrested in the 2021 Cordelia Cruise Ship Case, including actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan.

Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda for Wankhede explained that the chats were part of the petition and submitted that Wankhede will not communicate with the media from now on.

Special Public Prosecutor Kuldeep Patil for CBI argued that the chats are from the time when Wankhede was commanding the investigation. The father (Shah Rukh Khan) was concerned with the life and liberty of his son who was in custody, he said.

“A request made by the father, whose young boy was in custody is being used as a character certificate by the applicant”, Patil submitted.

SPP Patil objected to continuation of interim relief against arrest. He relied on NCB’s affidavit stating that the sanction under section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was within 21 days.

“Their contention was that the approval regarding the sanction to prosecute him (17A) was not granted within 4 months. But now the affidavit clarifies the sanction was granted within 21 days”, Patil submitted. NCB submitted the complaint against Wankhede along with the central government’s sanction on May 11, 2023. CBI registered the FIR the same day.

However, Ponda stated that the issue is under investigation since October 25, 2021. The entire enquiry, which is the basis for the FIR, is illegal as there was no sanction under section 17A before the enquiry, he argued.

Ponda argued that approval under section 17A from May 11, 2023, is not the answer to lack of sanction for the enquiry. Further, Central Administrative Tribunal’s order directing no action without hearing Wankhede is breached. All material collected before May 11, 2023 is illegal, he argued.

Patil for CBI and SPP Manish Jagtap for NCB submitted that the enquiry wasn’t under the Prevention of Corruption Act and hence, there was no question of a sanction under 17A.

Background

Wankhede had earlier approached the Delhi High Court. However, he withdrew the plea on Wednesday after the CBI raised a preliminary objection regarding the maintainability of the plea.

In his Delhi plea, Wankhede sought a fair investigation, quashing of the FIR against him and the registration of a “cross-FIR” based on his version against, Vishwa Vijay Singh, then Superintendent (NCB); Ashish Ranjan, then Intelligence Officer of Mumbai Zonal Unit (NCB); K P Gosavi, a panch witness in the Cruise Case and Sanvile D’Souza. As an interim direction, he prayed that no coercive steps be taken against him.

Wankhede is a 2008-batch IRS officer from the reserved category. As former head of the NCB Zonal Unit, Wankhede had led raids where the Cordelia Cruise Ship was docked on October 2, 2021.

In the raid, the NCB claimed to have seized 13 gm of cocaine, 5 gm of mephedrone, 21 gm of marijuana, 22 pills of MDMA and Rs 1.33 lakh cash in the raid, and arrested 17 people, including Aryan Khan. However, following allegations of bribery and extortion, the case was transferred to a Special Investigations Team of the NCB.

The SIT gave a clean chit to Khan and five others last year. Panch witness Prakhakar Sail who detailed the alleged extortion in an affidavit died of a cardiac arrest in April last year.

The Bombay HC said in its order granting bail to Khan and the other two on October 28, 2021, that prima facie there was no evidence on record to infer that Aryan Khan and his friend Arbaaz Merchant conspired to commit offences under the NDPS Act.

Case no. – Writ Petition (ST) No. 9645 of 2023

Case Title – Sameer Dyandev Wankhede v. Union of India

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Also read: Sameer Wankhede Skip CBI Questioning in Aryan Khan Bribery Case

SourceLive Law
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