Mumbai: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday arrested former 'encounter specialist' police officer Pradeep Sharma in the case of Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hian murder, claiming that Hiran was killed at Sharma and Sachin Waze's behest as part of a "larger conspiracy".
It also arrested two others, who allegedly killed Hiran, a Thane businessman. Sharma, a fifth police official (serving or former) to be arrested in the case, and the other two were remanded in the NIA's custody till June 28 by a court here..
So far the central agency has arrested ten persons in the case. An explosives-laden SUV was found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani's south Mumbai residence 'Antilia' on February 25. Mansukh Hiran, who claimed that the vehicle had been stolen from his possession, was found dead in Mumbra creek on March 5.
An NIA team picked up Sharma from Amby Valley near the hill station of Lonavla on Wednesday night and brought him to its office in south Mumbai for questioning, said an official.
The agency also conducted a raid at his residence in J B Nagar in Mumbai's Andheri (East) suburb around 6 am and later placed him under arrest. Besides Sharma, the NIA also arrested Satish alias Tanni bhai alias Vicky Baba, and Manish Soni from suburban Malad.
The central agency got "concrete evidence" against Sharma after the interrogation of Santosh Shelar and Anand Jadhav who were arrested on June 11, said special public prosecutor Sunil Gonsalves while seeking custodial remand in the court.
Satish and Soni killed Hiran in a red Tavera car where Shelar and Jadhav were also present, and later the body was dumped in a creek, the NIA told the court. Further, the "murderers" called up Waze and Sharma right after killing Hiran on March 4, it said.
DNA samples recovered from the car have been sent for forensic analysis, the NIA said.
Hiran was killed at the instance of Waze and Sharma "as part of a larger conspiracy", the agency alleged.
NIA sleuths recovered huge amount of cash from Sharma and other accused, it said. The agency also claimed that during a raid at Sharma's house, it recovered an unlicensed revolver with ammunition. "Sharma is an ex-cop but he roams with a revolver which is unlicensed. Why was he contacted by the murderers?" said prosecutor Gonsalves.
When asked by the judge if he wanted to say anything, Sharma said he had been framed up. "If I was really involved, would I be sleeping in my house? I am a retired police officer," he said.
Sharma also claimed he knew only Santosh Shelar, who was his "informer" for 12 years. "I don't know these two people (other accused) present in the dock...There are no phone calls between Waze and me, either. There are factions in the police force and I am being framed," he said.
"I'm a Shiv Sena member and run a foundation for helping people. I being a social worker many people come for help....They click pictures with me and post them on social media, but that doesn't mean I know them, " he added.
Sharma's lawyer, advocate Sudip Pasbola said he had always cooperated with probe. "You don't require their custody to confront them with call records, all that is documentary evidence," the lawyer said.
Special judge P R Sitre, after hearing the submissions, remanded Sharma and other two accused in the NIA custody.
Earlier, the agency had arrested Mumbai police officers Sachin Waze, Riyazuddin Kazi and Sunil Mane. All three were subsequently dismissed from service. It also arrested former police constable Vinayak Shinde and cricket bookie Naresh Gor.
Sharma allegedly helped Waze in destroying evidence, NIA sources said, adding he was also involved in hatching the conspiracy and planning as well execution of the murder of Hiran.
Around two months ago, the NIA had questioned Sharma at its office for two days.
A police source, meanwhile, said that some more accused, including a Thane police officer, were likely to be arrested in the case.
Sharma, who was heading the anti-extortion cell of Thane police in his last posting, opted for voluntary retirement in 2019.
A 1983 batch police officer, he was reportedly involved in 'encounter' killings of over 100 criminals during his service. He was dismissed in August 2008 for alleged underworld links, but was reinstated in May 2009 following the orders of the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT).
In 2010 Sharma was arrested for the 2006 `fake' encounter of alleged gangster Lakhan Bhaiya. He spent almost four years behind bars in the case before being acquitted by a court in July 2013 and was again reinstated in the police force in 2017.
But two years later, he opted for voluntary retirement and unsuccessfully contested assembly elections from Nalasopara on Shiv Sena ticket.