Extortion and bribery case: Tribunal says NCB’s deputy DG could not have been part of enquiry team against Wankhede

 The Central Administrative Tribunal has held that NCB Deputy Director General Gyaneshwar Singh could not have been part of the enquiry team set up to probe alleged procedural lapses by IRS officer Sameer Wankhede in connection with the Cordelia cruise drugs case.

The tribunal said Singh gave instructions to Wankhede in connection with the investigation into the drugs-on-cruise case so he could not have been a part of the enquiry team.

The tribunal in its August 21 order said since the findings submitted by the enquiry team were preliminary in nature, the Union government and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) shall give Wankhede personal hearing before taking any action against him based on the report.

On Tuesday, Wankhede informed the Bombay High Court of the CAT (tribunal) order.

A division bench of Justices Nitin Sambre and Rajesh Patil was hearing Wankhede’s petition seeking to quash a case of extortion and bribery registered against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The CBI case is that Wankhede and four others had demanded Rs 25 crore bribe from actor Shah Rukh Khan for not framing his son Aryan following the alleged seizure of drugs from Cordelia cruise ship in 2021. Aryan Khan spent nearly a month in jail before being granted bail.

The bench said Wankhede could file an affidavit placing the CAT order on record if he wishes to and placed the matter for hearing on Wednesday.

The tribunal’s Chairman Justice Ranjit More and member Anand Mathur in their order of August 21 said NCB official Gyaneshwar Singh could not have been part of the special enquiry team (SET) that was probing alleged procedural lapses Wankhede.

Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Wankhede was the NCB’s zonal director at the time of the alleged cruise drug bust.

The tribunal said after the drugs case was lodged, Singh not only supervised and gave instructions to Wankhede in respect of the investigation but also gave the plan of action to him.

“Respondent No. 4 (Singh), in our opinion, being actively involved in the investigation could not have been the part of SET, which was constituted to hold an enquiry for the alleged procedural lapses on the part of officials during the seizure and follow up action in connection with the aforesaid crime,” the tribunal said in its order.

The CAT, however, took note of the contention of the NCB that the SET report was preliminary in nature and that an independent decision would be taken by the Union government and NCB regarding action to be taken against Wankhede.

“We are of the opinion that the interest of justice would be subserved by directing the respondents (Union government and NCB) to grant personal hearing to the applicant (Wankhede) before initiating any action against him on the basis of the impugned SET report and the decision so taken shall be communicated to him by passing a reasoned and speaking order,” it said.

The tribunal passed its order on an application filed by Wankhede seeking to quash the June 2022 report submitted by the anti-drugs agency’s SET set up to probe against the former Mumbai zone chief.

The SET in its report said Wankhede, who had initially investigated the controversial drugs-on-cruise case involving actor Aryan Khan, had violated service rules including mis-reporting of foreign travel expenses and transactions in luxury watches.

The SET’s findings were taken on record by the CBI which then lodged a FIR against Wankhede on charges of extortion and bribery.

Wankhede denied these allegations and approached the CAT and recently the Bombay High Court to quash the CBI case against him saying the SET chief NCB Deputy Director General (DDG) Gyaneshwar Singh was “acting as judge of his own cause and conduct” as he was his reporting boss during the case in question.

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The high court had in May granted Wankhede interim protection from any coercive action.

Wankhede and the other four accused in the case have been booked under charges of criminal conspiracy and extortion threats under the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act pertaining to bribery.

Aryan Khan and several others were arrested in October 2021 for alleged possession, consumption and trafficking of drugs.

Later, Aryan Khan was granted bail by the high court after spending more than three weeks in jail.

The NCB subsequently filed its chargesheet, but did not name Aryan as an accused in the case citing lack of evidence.

The anti-drugs agency had then set up an SET to probe into the case and against its own officers.

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