Aryan distances himself from extortion row; No bail yet as HC to continue hearing on Wednesday

Fan's of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, hold posters written with 'Release Aryan Khan' stand outside Bombay High court. Photo: PTI

Mumbai/New Delhi: The legal team of Aryan Khan told the Bombay High Court on Tuesday there was no evidence against him in the drugs-on-cruise case and was wrongly arrested as he distanced himself from the raging allegations of extortion attempt against NCB zonal director Sameer Wankhede, who came under a fresh around of attack from Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik.

There was no immediate relief for Aryan Khan (23), the jailed son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, as the HC adjourned to Wednesday the hearing on his bail plea after several hours of argument by the defence team headed by former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

Outside the court, Malik continued his tirade against Wankhede and levelled a new set of allegations, including illegal phone tapping, against him, while the under-fire IRS officer's wife came out in support for her husband, who landed in New Delhi and visited the NCB headquarters, where he spent over two hours.

In another development related to the cruise drugs case, a special NDPS Act court granted bail to two accused arrested in the case - Manish Rajgaria and Avin Sahu. They are the only accused who have been granted bail so far in the much publicized case, in which 20 people, including Aryan Khan, were arrested since the alleged seizure of drugs on a cruise ship off the Mumbai coast early this month.

Rohatgi and Satish Maneshinde appear for Aryan Khan

In the HC, Aryan Khan's lawyers Rohatgi and Satish Maneshinde argued before Justice N W Sambre that the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) had no evidence against him.

Aryan Khan also distanced himself from allegations of extortion attempts against Wankhede, who had supervised the raid on the ship on October 2.

"Aryan has no complaints whatsoever against any officer of the NCB, including its zonal director Sameer Wankhede. Aryan is not concerned with these unsavoury controversies. He completely denies any relation to this," senior counsel Rohatgi told the court.

The NCB and Wankhede on Monday had said the extortion allegations were part of vendetta by a political leader whose son-in-law had been arrested by the NCB in the past, the lawyer said.

"But today, the NCB is putting this on Aryan Khan and saying he is tampering with witnesses. This is affecting my client's case," Rohatgi argued.

He contended that the "legislative intent" behind the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, under which Aryan Khan and others, were arrested was reformation in cases involving small quantities of drugs.

The Act intends that young persons be treated as victims and not as accused, he added.

Aryan Khan is a "young boy with no prior antecedents," Rohatgi added.

"Section 64A of the Act provides immunity to those persons who have been accused of possessing small quantities. If these persons are agreeable to be sent to rehab then that should be allowed. Aryan's case is not even of possession or consumption," Rohatgi said, adding he cannot be held responsible for some other person's alleged possession of drugs.

The 23-year-old has been wrongly arrested and kept in jail for over 20 days, he said.

The case was being blown out of proportions by some people who have vested interests and the media was paying attention to it because of some unsavoury controversies, otherwise it was a simple case, he added.

"There is no evidence of consumption, no recovery of drugs and absolutely no evidence to show his participation in this so-called conspiracy and abetment as alleged by the NCB," Rohatgi said.

After Rohatgi completed his arguments, the high court said it would continue hearing on the bail pleas of co-accused Arbaaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha on Wednesday.

He will also hear the arguments of Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, the NCB's lawyer, on Wednesday, the judge said.

Aryan Khan
Aryan Khan in NCB custody. PTI/File photo

During his argument, Rohatgi pointed out that Aryan was not subjected to any medical examination to show that he had indeed consumed drugs.

The senior counsel assailed the order of the special NDPS Act court refusing Aryan Khan bail on the ground he was aware that his friend Arbaaz Merchant had drugs and hence Aryan was guilty, prima facie, of "conscious possession".

The NCB wrongly relied on WhatsApp chats of Aryan Khan as they had no connection with the present case, Rohatgi said.

"The chats are of 2018, 2019 and 2020 and it has absolutely no connection with this cruise party. The chats are with some random persons, including some foreigners about drugs. This would relate to alleged consumption in the past," he said.

Rohatgi said Aryan Khan himself had not boarded the ship at the time of arrest.

Aryan Khan was arrested on October 3 along with his friend Arbaaz Merchant and fashion model Dhamecha by the NCB, along with others. While Aryan and Merchant are now lodged at the Arthur Road prison, Dhamecha is at the Byculla Women's Prison. A special court for NDPS cases had refused to grant them bail.

Earlier in the day, the NCB opposed Aryan Khan's bail plea in an affidavit filed before the HC, alleging he was not just a consumer of drugs, but also involved in illicit drug trafficking.

The agency said prima facie investigation revealed that Aryan Khan used to procure drugs from Arbaaz Merchant and was in touch with "some persons abroad who appear to be part of an international drug network".

The affidavit further said though drugs were not recovered from Aryan Khan, he "participated in the conspiracy".

Nawab Malik trains gun again on Wankhede

Malik on Tuesday accused Wankhede of illegal phone tapping and said he will hand over a letter on the IRS officer's misdeeds' to the NCB head.

Sameer Wankhede, through two persons in Mumbai and Thane, is illegally intercepting the mobile phones of some people, said Malik, who has been targeting Wankhede after his son-in-law's arrest in a separate drugs case.

Malik claimed Wankhede had sought the call detail record (CDR) of a member of his family from the police.

The state minister said he is forwarding a letter written by someone in NCB about the various illegal activities of Wankhede' to the agency's DG, S N Pradhan. The minister said the NCB should investigate the 26 allegations in the letter claiming an extortion racket' was being run within the anti-drugs agency.

Sameer Wankhede
NCB Mumbai Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede arrives at Narcotics Control Bureau office in New Delhi, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. PTI

Malik said he has also submitted a copy of the letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the state Home department and to the sitting and former heads of the Congress, which is an ally of the NCP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

The veteran politician alleged Wankhede has sought the CDR of his daughter.

"On what grounds Wankhede is seeking the CDR report of my daughter? I think Wankhede is crossing the limits. I will expose those people involved in phone tapping with proof," he said.

Malik on Monday claimed Wankhede is a Muslim by birth. The minister had released what he claimed was the birth certificate of Wankhede and alleged that the latter had forged documents.

However, the NCB official's father later said his name is Dnyandev and not Dawood, as claimed by Malik.

On Tuesday, Malik said, "I have all the authentic documents to prove that Sameer Wankhede was born into a Muslim family, but he forged his identity and sought a job under the Scheduled Caste category. As per the law, Dalits who are converted to Islam do not get the quota privilege, thus Sameer Wankhede has denied the job opportunity to a genuine person from the Schedule Caste.

The minister alleged Wankhede and some of his colleagues were involved into some "extortion racket".

Reacting to Malik's letter, NCB Deputy Director General Mutha Ashok Jain said they will take necessary action into the matter.

Wankhede's wife lashes out at Nawab Malik

Addressing the media in suburban Andheri, Kranti Redkar, the wife of Wankhede, came out in strong support of her husband and said they were getting threat calls, facing vicious trolling online and living in fear as she rejected allegations levelled against him by Malik.

Redkar, who is an actress, described her husband as an honest government officer and also refuted the extortion attempt claims made by an NCB witness in the Mumbai cruise drugs case which is being supervised by Wankhede.

Kranti Redkar
Actress Kranti Redkar, wife of NCB officer Sameer Wankhede, addresses a press conference at Andheri in Mumbai, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. PTI

"My husband is an honest officer and doing his duty with sincerity for the last 15 years. Sameer is not attached to any political party, he is a central government employee and doing his work, some people are having a problem from his work due to which everything (row related to allegations against Wankhede) is happening," she said. "People who are against Sameer have been threatening us, saying they will burn us and kill our family, but the police have given us security, and they are taking very good care of us," Redkar said. Asked about the series of allegations made against Wankhede by Malik, she said the state minister has made his claims on social media and not in front of a court of law. "Minister Nawab Malik has put allegations against us on Twitter, and Twitter is not a court. If Malik submits allegations against Sameer in a court and if all allegations are proved, then only the person becomes a criminal. Media trials can not help him," Redkar said.

"Sameer and me are born Hindus. We have never converted to any other religion. We respect all religions. Sameer's father, too, is a Hindu who married a Muslim mom-in-law is no more," she said.

Asked about NCB witness Prabhakar Sail's claim that there was an extortion bid of Rs 25 crore by some agency officials, including Wankhede, and others for letting off Aryan Khan in the drugs case, Redkar said if he has evidence, he should produce it in a court.

Wankhede visits NCB HQ

In the midst of legal proceedings in the drugs case in Mumbai and allegations against him, Wankhede visited the NCB headquarters in New Delhi and spent over two hours.

The officer entered the NCB office in the R K Puram area through a back entry gate and is understood to have met his senior officers.

Some people holding banners in support of Wankhede and certain posters hailing him were seen outside the NCB headquarters.

It was not confirmed if Wankhede met NCB director general (DG) S N Pradhan.

Sameer Wankhede
NCB Mumbai Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede arrives at the NCB office in New Delhi, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. PTI

However, sources indicated the top brass of the federal anti-narcotics agency met on Tuesday for a review meeting of various zonal offices of the agency in the country.

NCB deputy director general (DDG) northern region Gyaneshwar Singh, heading the departmental vigilance probe on the allegations of extortion in the drugs-on-cruise case, told reporters outside the NCB office that he "did not call anyone for my probe".

Wankhede's visit to the national capital comes in the backdrop of the NCB ordering a vigilance inquiry into the allegations made by a witness in the cruise drugs case of an extortion bid of Rs 25 crore by some agency officials, including the Mumbai zonal director, and others for letting off Aryan Khan.

On Monday, he failed to get any relief related to an affidavit on the sensational extortion claims made by independent witness Prabhakar Sail, with a special court saying it cannot pass a blanket order barring courts from taking cognisance of the document.

The NCB and Wankhede had filed two separate affidavits before the special court against the allegations of extortion attempt levelled against them.

On Tuesday, Sail said he stood by his allegation of extortion demand against Wankhede and others, and nobody had tutored him. Wankhede has already denied the allegation.

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Sail showed some chats on mobile phone where K P Gosavi, another witness in the case, purportedly asked him to collect the extortion money from Haji Ali.

"I have narrated everything chronologically and nothing is made-up. Nobody is asking me to speak about this issue," Sail said.

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