Hiren murder case: ATS arrests policeman, bookie

Officials say Vaze has emerged as prime accused in crime; Raj Thackeray seeks Centre’s intervention

In a “major breakthrough”, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has arrested a policeman and a bookie in connection with the alleged murder of businessman Mansukh Hiren, an official said on Sunday, adding that police officer Sachin Vaze had played a key role in the crime and emerged as the prime accused.

The accused duo, identified as policeman Vinayak Shinde and bookie Naresh Gaur, were arrested on Saturday late night, he said. Earlier in the day, the official had given the name of the bookie as Naresh Dhare, but later said it was Naresh Gaur. Shinde is a convict in the 2006 Lakhan Bhaiya fake encounter case and he came out from jail on furlough last year, he said, adding that Shinde had been in touch with Mr. Vaze since then.

Mr. Vaze is currently in the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the recovery of an explosives-laden vehicle which was found parked near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s multi-storey residence ‘Antilia’ in south Mumbai on February 25. The vehicle was in possession of Mr. Hiren before his body was found in a creek near Thane on March 5. The Union Home Ministry on Saturday handed over the Hiren murder case to the NIA.

“Sachin Vaze is a prime accused in the Hiren murder case. He had played a key role. During the probe, the ATS found that Gaur had provided five SIM cards to API Vaze and Shinde for the crime. Shinde used to help Vaze in his illegal activities,” the official said.

He said the ATS was investigating if more people were involved in the case and what role they had played.

‘Finding main conspirator’

“The ATS is probing who was the main conspirator,” he added. “Both the accused were on Saturday called to the ATS headquarters for questioning in connection with the case and later placed under arrest,” he added. “The State ATS has so far interrogated several people, including police officials and the family members of the deceased. The arrest of these two persons is a major breakthrough in the case,” the official said.

The ATS had earlier registered a case under Indian Penal Code sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false information to screen offender), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) against unidentified persons in connection with Hiren’s death.

Earlier in the day, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray sought the Centre’s intervention in unearthing the truth behind the explosives-laden car that was found near Mr. Ambani’s residence. Addressing a press conference, Mr. Thackeray alleged that the Maharashtra government failed to shed light on several basic points in the case.

“The explosives case doesn’t revolve only around Param Bir Singh and Sachin Vaze. Police placing the explosives or being asked to do so is not a small thing,” he said. The Centre should help in finding out the truth in the case. The basic issue of who placed the explosives-laden vehicle and on whose instructions it was done needs to be found out, the MNS chief said. “The basic issue should not be forgotten, otherwise this case will go the same way as actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s (death) case,” he said.

Mr. Thackeray said it seems very unlikely that the vehicle with explosives was parked near Mr. Ambani’s house by Mr. Vaze without being asked to do so.

Mr. Thackeray asked why there is no clarity yet from the State government as to why Param Bir Singh was shunted out. “Was it because he is linked to the placing of the vehicle? And if Singh is involved, why didn’t the State government take action against him instead of just a transfer?” he asked.

Mr. Thackeray said the source of the gelatin sticks in the vehicle has also not been revealed yet. He said Mr. Ambani and Uddhav Thackeray share an extremely warm relationship.

‘Threat letter in question’

Mr. Raj Thackeray also raised question marks over the threat letter found in the vehicle, saying, “Is it so easy to extort money from Ambani? Will the police on their owndare to try to extort money from an industrialist, who shares very warm relations with the chief minister,” he asked.

He reiterated his demand for resignation of Anil Deshmukh for ensuring free and fair probe over the allegations against him.

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