The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the CBI to stop “playing hide and seek” after the agency sought vacation of an earlier order granting interim protection to IRS officer Sameer Wankhede in the Cordelia cruise ‘drug bust’ bribery case.
A division bench of Justices A S Gadkari and S G Dige rebuked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for claiming that they may want to arrest Wankhede in future if he does not cooperate in their probe but not telling the court if it has reached the conclusion that his arrest is required.
The bench said the CBI’s arguments were creating serious doubts in the minds of the court. It also directed the agency to produce its case diary on the next date of the hearing – June 28 – to show the progress in the investigation. The CBI had sought vacation of an earlier order passed by the court directing that no coercive action be taken against Wankhede, the former zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Wankhede and four others have been accused of seeking a bribe of Rs 25 crore from actor Shah Rukh Khan for not implicating his son Aryan in the Cordelia cruise ‘drug bust’ case. The CBI registered a first information report (FIR) against Wankhede and others in May on the basis of a written complaint issued to them by the NCB.
The bench on Friday asked what coercive action the CBI wants to take against Wankhede when it has already issued a notice under Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) section 41A (directing the accused to appear for statement) and when Wankhede has already appeared before the agency seven times.
CBI’s advocate Kuldeep Patil said the agency ought to be given a free hand. “Arrest is the prerogative of the agency. What if in future he (Wankhede) does not cooperate,” Patil said.
The bench, however, noted that once notice under section 41A is given that means the agency does not have any intention to arrest. “How can you (CBI) anticipate? Has the agency reached its conclusion that arrest is required?” Justice Gadkari asked.
“Why are you (CBI) shying from telling us? Please don’t play this game of hide and seek. CBI is a premiere agency of this country,” the court added.
CBI’s arguments for seeking the vacation of the no coercive order indicate that it wants to arrest Wankhede, said the HC. ”Your arguments are raising serious doubts in our minds. We want to see your case diary,” Justice Gadkari said.
The court went on to say, “Once 41A notice is issued where is the question of arrest? Is 41A notice just a charade,” asked HC, asserting that the CBI has to openly say that it has reached a conclusion that Wankhde’s arrest is required. Patil said as of today, CBI has not reached a conclusion.
Meanwhile, an advocate named Niles Ojha sought to intervene in the case, urging that CBI should also probe Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan and the actor’s manager Pooja Dadlani in the case.
“The report of the NCB, on the basis of which the CBI case is lodged, is fabricated and the CBI is blindly investigating. The petitioner is not supporting anyone but the CBI should add Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan and Pooja Dadlani as accused in the case,” Ojha said.
Calling the allegations frivolous, advocate Patil said the CBI probe is at a nascent stage.
“Everything and everyone is being investigated. CBI knows how to investigate,” Patil said. The bench said Ojha should first file an application seeking to intervene after which the court will hear him.
The bench then posted the matter for hearing on June 28 and said the interim order of no coercive action against Wankhede shall continue till then.
Wankhede had moved HC last month seeking to quash the CBI case and had also sought interim protection from any coercive action. Wankhede and the other accused have been booked under charges of criminal conspiracy and extortion threats under the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act pertaining to bribery.
Aryan Khan and several others were arrested in October 2021 for alleged possession, consumption and trafficking of drugs after the NCB’s Mumbai unit, then led by Wankhede, searched passengers on board the Cordelia cruiseliner. Aryan Khan was granted bail by the high court after spending three weeks in jail.
The NCB subsequently filed its chargesheet in the drugs case but did not name Aryan citing “lack of evidence”.
The anti-drugs agency had then set up a special enquiry team to carry out a probe into the case and against its own officers.