SUV-Hiran case: NIA nets Mumbai Police's former 'encounter-specialist' Pradeep Sharma
Mumbai, June 17, 2021
Netting the biggest catch so far in the sensational SUV planting-cum-businessman murder cases, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday arrested Pradeep Sharma, former high-profile "encounter specialist" of the Mumbai Police, along with two other "key conspirators".
A court sent all three to NIA custody till June 28.
While Sharma, a professor-turned-cop-turned-Shiv Sena activist, was picked up from a location in Lonavala hillstation in Pune district, the other two were rounded up from a Mumbai suburb.
The arrests were preceded by a surprise dawn swoop on Sharma's Andheri East residence from where the NIA and Mumbai Police teams recovered a revolver and collected various evidences like files, documents, laptops, and so on.
On the revolver, Sharma told the court that it was a licensed weapon, but the license had expired and he had not renewed it, besides he was a former policeman, and if he was connected with the (Mansukh Hiran) murder, why was he not nabbed earlier.
He argued that this was a "conspiracy" against him and there was a "group in Mumbai Police" which was targeting him.
Besides Sharma, the others nabbed are Satish T. Mothkuri alias Vickybaba, 40, and Manish V. Soni, 46, both from Malad suburb.
This has taken the total number of people arrested by the NIA in the twin cases to 10 till date.
The NIA action and arrests - the fifth involving a former cop and the 10th so far - came in the sensational case of the abandoned SUV with 20 gelatin sticks and a threat note found near Antilia, home of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, on February 25.
Soon after that, the police recovered the body of Hiran, the owner of the SUV, from the Thane Creek marshes on March 5, as both the cases triggered a massive political row.
Last week, the NIA had arrested two other persons, identified as Santosh Atmaram Shelar and Anand Pandurang Jadhav, both from a slum pocket in Kurar village of Malad East for their roles in the twin cases.
Police sources said that their custodial interrogation revealed more details of the role of Sharma - once labeled as the "Dirty Harry" of Mumbai Police with 103 Mafia scalps to his credit - and culminated in Thursday's action.
Earlier, the NIA had arrested five other persons including former cops like Sachin Vaze, Riyazuddin Kazi, Sunil Mane, convicted ex-cop Vinayak Shinde and cricket bookie Naresh Gor.
Hailing from Agra, Sharma, a controversial former Senior Police Inspector, had been earlier interrogated by the NIA a couple of times last April in the same cases.
Sharma is reported to be close to Vaze, who is named as one of the prime accused in the SUV-Hiran cases, and the duo had allegedly met in early March when the plot to eliminate Hiran was hatched.
Sharma had built up a formidable reputation for wiping out the Mumbai mafia through the so-called "encounter killings".
Sharma had mentored and tutored other high-profile cops like Daya Nayak, a canteen waiter from Karnataka, and also the tech-savvy Vaze, besides others who made up the crack teams of "encounter specialists" dreaded by the Mumbai mafia in the 1990s.
During their heydays - among themselves, Sharma, Ravindra Angre, Praful Bhosle, B. Raju Pillai, Vinayaka Sawade, Nayak, besides 26/11 martyr Vijay Salaskar - had totally killed 1,000-plus big and small criminals, gangsters, terrorists and other anti-socials, becoming heroes and the subject of Bollywood films like "Ab Tak Chhappan".
Subsequently, after the ire of the public and rights groups, all were gradually marginalised and most of them have lost their previous glory.
Even Sharma, like Vaze and some others, was dismissed from the police in 2008 for alleged links with the underworld, but was reinstated after about 10 years when the charges against him failed.
In 2017, he started his second innings with a thunderbolt by the daring arrest of Iqbal Ibrahim Kaskar - the younger sibling of absconding mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar - in September 2017, on extortion charges.
In 2019, he took VRS and quit the police force to join the Shiv Sena and unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections from Nalasopara constituency in Palghar.