The Bombay High Court extended the interim protection granted to Sameer Wankhede, former officer of NCB, in an extortion case related to the arrest of Aryan Khan in 2021.

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By Legal Referencer

Bombay High Court Orders Sameer Wankhede to Refrain from Publishing WhatsApp Chats or Making Press Statements in Extortion Case

Case no. – Writ Petition (ST) No. 9645 of 2023
Case Title – Sameer Dyandev Wankhede v. Union of India

The Bombay High Court has extended interim protection to Sameer Wankhede, a former officer of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), in a high-profile extortion case related to the arrest of Aryan Khan in 2021. A vacation bench comprising Justice Abhay Ahuja and Justice MM Sathaye issued the extension order, which builds upon the court’s previous directive issued on May 19, prohibiting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from taking any coercive measures against Wankhede. However, this protection is contingent upon Wankhede refraining from publishing any material such as WhatsApp chats or making any press statements regarding the ongoing petition or investigation.

Wankhede had presented alleged WhatsApp chats with Shah Rukh Khan, the father of Aryan Khan, in an attempt to counter the extortion allegations leveled against him in the CBI’s First Information Report (FIR). Wankhede argued that Khan’s commendation of his integrity would not have been possible if he had indeed made monetary demands to secure the release of Aryan Khan.

In addition to the extension of interim protection, the High Court has directed Wankhede to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation. The case has been scheduled for the next hearing on June 8, with the CBI instructed to file a reply to Wankhede’s petition by June 3. Wankhede, currently serving as an IRS officer, has approached the High Court to challenge the FIR filed against him and five others by the CBI. The agency accuses them of demanding a bribe of Rs 25 crore from the family members of those arrested in the 2021 Cordelia Cruise Ship Case, including Aryan Khan, the son of actor Shah Rukh Khan.

Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda, representing Wankhede, clarified that the WhatsApp chats were submitted as part of the petition, and he assured the court that Wankhede would no longer engage with the media. Special Public Prosecutor Kuldeep Patil, appearing on behalf of the CBI, argued that the chats in question were from the period when Wankhede was overseeing the investigation. Patil asserted that Shah Rukh Khan, as a concerned father with his son in custody, made a request that is now being used as a character certificate by Wankhede.

Patil objected to the continuation of interim relief against arrest, referring to an affidavit from the NCB indicating that the sanction under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was granted within 21 days. He stated that Wankhede’s contention about the sanction not being granted within four months no longer holds since the affidavit clarifies the sanction’s timely approval. The NCB had submitted the complaint against Wankhede, along with the central government’s sanction, on May 11, 2023, and the CBI registered the FIR on the same day.

However, Ponda argued that the issue had been under investigation since October 25, 2021, and the entire inquiry, which forms the basis of the FIR, is invalid as there was no sanction under Section 17A before the inquiry commenced. Ponda further contended that the approval under Section 17A from May 11, 2023, does not rectify the lack of sanction for the initial inquiry. He also claimed that the Central Administrative Tribunal’s order directing no action without hearing Wankhede had been violated, and all the evidence collected prior to May 11, 2023, should be considered illegal.

During the proceedings, the CBI and SPP Manish Jagtap representing the NCB argued that the inquiry was not conducted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and therefore, there was no requirement for a sanction under Section 17A.

Brief History:

Sameer Wankhede, an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer belonging to the 2008 batch and hailing from the reserved category, previously held the position of head of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Zonal Unit. In an important case involving the arrest of Aryan Khan and others during a raid on the Cordelia Cruise Ship on October 2, 2021, Wankhede led the operation, which resulted in the seizure of various illegal substances and the apprehension of 17 individuals.

However,the case later got transferred to a Special Investigations Team (SIT) within the NCB due to the allegations of bribery and extortion. The SIT eventually exonerated Khan and five other individuals of all charges last year. Tragically, Prabhakar Sail, a key witness who had provided an affidavit outlining the alleged extortion, passed away due to a cardiac arrest in April of the same year.

Following these events, Wankhede took his case to the Delhi High Court, but later withdrew the plea after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) objected to its maintainability. In his initial plea, Wankhede sought a fair investigation into the matter, the dismissal of the First Information Report (FIR) against him, and the filing of a “cross-FIR” based on his version of events against several individuals involved in the case. Additionally, he requested interim relief to prevent any coercive actions from being taken against him.

Sameer Wankhede

On October 28, 2021, the Bombay High Court granted bail to Aryan Khan and two other individuals, stating that there was insufficient evidence to suggest their involvement in offenses under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

It is important to note the ongoing legal proceedings in this case, including the recent directives issued by the Bombay High Court regarding Wankhede’s protection against coercive measures, the prohibition on publishing WhatsApp chats or making press statements, and the requirement for cooperation in the investigation. The court has set future dates for the case and directed the CBI to respond to Wankhede’s petition. The developments in this high-profile matter continue to generate public interest, emphasizing the significance of a fair and thorough examination of the allegations and evidence involved.

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