NCB Bribery Case: Bombay High Court Grants Interim Relief to Sameer Wankhede till May 22

(Judicial Quest News Network)

Former Narcotics Control Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede got a sigh of relief on Friday when Bombay High Court granted temporary relief to him by directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) not to take any coercive action against him till May 22 in a corruption and extortion case being investigated against him, after he tendered a written undertaking to appear before the CBI office on Saturday.

A vacation bench directed Wankhede to appear before the CBI office in Mumbai on May20 and granted him protection from arrest.

A division bench comprising Justices Sharmila Deshmukh and Arif Doctor directed Wankhede to approach CBI office in Mumbai.

Advocate Rizwan Merchant appearing for Wankhede, sought interim protection from arrest claiming the entire exercise leading to filing of FIR was an abuse of process. He also submitted that since he could not raise this argument before the concerned trial judge, he moved the High Court. He submitted that arresting Wankhede will demoralise the officers.

Learned counsel appearing for the petitioner submits that the FIR has been registered on 11/5/2023 pursuant to the sanction which has been granted under section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (for short, “the Act”) on 11/5/2023.

“Merchant argued that “ that the second proviso to Section 17A of the Act creates a legal bar. Reliance was made on the case in Apex Court in the case of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, AIR 1992 SC 604 held that one of the conditions in which FIR ought to be quashed is where there is an express legal bar engrafted in any of the provisions of the Code or the concerned Act under which a criminal proceeding is instituted.

He would submit that inquiry in the present case is relatable to the offence of the year 2021 and as such the prescribed period of 4 months under section 17A of the Act has already lapsed. He would further submit that even taking into consideration the report of the Special Inquiry Team dated 25/10/2021, bar under section 17A of the Act would still apply.

Mr. Wankhede, an Indian Revenue Officer who was posted at NCB office in Mumbai came into the limelight following the High-profile October2021 raids by NCB on Mumbai Cruise after which the agency arrested Aryan Khan, son of actor Shahrukh Khan, and 19 others and claimed to have seized some narcotics too.

It was alleged that Wankhede had arrested Aryan Khan only to extort money in exchange of his release, was blatantly false.

To substantiate his argument, he produced the messages allegedly sent by Sharukh Khan to him on his mobile Phone between October 3 to 15, 2021 when Aryan was under custody of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in the drug case.

It was further submitted that the conversation between him and Khan over message nowhere suggested either a demand made or caused to be made for extending a favour Aryan’s advantage.

“It can be clearly seen from the messages sent by Mr. Shahrukh Khan himself during the time Aryan was in custody of NCB.Mr Sharukh Khan has through his messages clearly portrayed that he has no grievances against Wankhede and has only requested to be kind to his son.

It has also been submitted that Mr. Sharukh Khan praised the former’s (Sameer Wankhede), integrity and even expressed anguish over the politician involvement in the matter.

The petition furthermore underscores that “It is obvious that the tone of his messages would have been completely contrary had the petitioner raised any demands for money for releasing Aryan Khan.

On May 11 CBI booked Wankhede and four others for alleged criminal conspiracy and threat of extortion, besides under provisions pertaining to bribery under the Prevention of Corruption Act on a complaint by NCB. The complaint against him was filed by NCB where he formerly served as an official.

Wankhede had earlier on 17 May approached Delhi High Court which directed him to approach appropriate forum in his plea seeking a direction to CBI to register a cross FIR in the agency’s corruption case against him and others in relation to the 2021 Cordelia Cruise Ship drug bust case.

CBI had raised a preliminary objection regarding jurisdiction before the Delhi High Court and said that even though it had registered the case in Delhi, everything has been forwarded to Mumbai and, therefore, Wankhede should have approached appropriate forum in Mumbai.

The Delhi High Court order thereafter noted, Senior council appearing for the petitioner submits that without going into the merits of the case, he wishes to withdraw the petition with liberty to approach the appropriate forum. The withdrawal of the petition was allowed with liberty as abovesaid.

A Special Enquiry Team (SET) of the NCB had red-flagged lapses and irregularities in the operation on the cruise ship conducted under the monitoring of Wankhede.

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