SUV case: 'Made scapegoat', says Vaze as NIA custody extended till April 3
Mumbai, March 25, 2021
A special court in Mumbai on Thursday extended till April 3 the NIA custody of Assistant Police Inspector (API) Sachin Vaze, the prime accused in the SUV case that pertains to the explosives-laden Scorpio with a threat note that was found abandoned near Antilia, the residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani.
Vaze was produced before the Special NIA Court after his NIA custody ended on Thursday and the agency secured his custody for another nine days, exactly a month after the SUV was found near Antilia on February 25.
Seeking extension of Vaze's custody by 15 days, Additional Solicitor-General Anil Singh, representing the NIA, said the agency had seized 62 live bullets from Vaze's home which are not yet accounted for since he was only issued 30 bullets by the police department, of which five have been accounted for.
He argued that when Vaze had allegedly gone to plant the SUV near Antilia, he reportedly collected and destroyed some critical CCTV footages of several places, and used fake id cards to check into a five-star hotel.
The NIA has already seized around half-a-dozen high-end cars and gathered forensic evidence like burnt clothes and mobile phone, other samples and blood traces from the vehicles which have now been sent for DNA profiling and further forensic analysis.
Seeking Vaze's extended custody, the NIA said that it wants to question him further and verify his statements by confronting him with the other accused who have been arrested in connection with the case.
In his submissions before the special court, Vaze and his lawyer Abad Ponda dismissed the NIA's contentions and urged that its plea for extending custody should be rejected, as he was innocent and was being framed in the entire matter.
"I am being made a scapegoat in this whole incident. I have nothing to do with the crime," pleaded Vaze, who was arrested on March 13, four days after the probe was handed over to the NIA on March 9 following a massive political furore.
He said that he had investigated the case for just one-and-a-half days, doing whatever was required as the IO, along with other Mumbai Police and Crime Branch officers, but something happened abruptly and when he went to the NIA office on March 13, he was arrested.
Advocate Ponda said that the NIA would also have to convince the court on invoking the stringent anti-terror provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on March 24, even as it was handed over the connected case pertaining to the death of businessman Mansukh Hiren.
Thane-based businessman Hiren, who was in possession of the Scorpio, was found dead under mysterious circumstances on March 5.
A former high-profile "encounter specialist", Vaze was suspended in 2004, joined the Shiv Sena briefly, and was reinstated to the police force in 2020.
Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is now tracking a "mystery woman" who had accompanied Vaze to a five-star hotel in south Mumbai.
Vaze was seen entering the hotel where he spent at least five days in mid-February, allegedly using fake identity papers, and the woman close behind him was noticed, baffling the investigators, official sources said.
Though her antecedents are not clear, she is reportedly from Gujarat and may have been involved in some other case being probed by the Mumbai Crime Branch's elite Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU).
The NIA is also trying to trace five black bags which Vaze was seen carrying while entering the hotel during his stay from February 16, hours after Hiren lodged a complaint saying that his SUV Scorpio was missing.
The current whereabouts of the bags are not known, but the NIA is quizzing the hotel staffers and others to trace them and their contents.
As part of the ongoing probe into the SUV and Hiren cases, the NIA is scanning all persons who had met or spoken with Vaze from mid-February till his arrest, and the mystery woman may be questioned shortly.
After a Thane Magistrate ordered the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) to hand over the entire case papers to the NIA, the federal agency will investigate the Hiren death case also along with the SUV case.
It was in the early afternoon of February 25 that the abandoned SUV was detected near Antilia and later the police recovered 20 gelatin sticks and a threat note from it.
Exactly 10 days later on March 25, the body of Hiren was extricated from the marshes in the Thane Creek near Mumbra town.
Hoping to salvage its slurred image, the 157-year-old Mumbai Police effected a major shake-up in the Crime Branch by transferring at least 86 policemen, including 65 officers.