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Antilia Bomb Scare: Bombay High Court Denies Bail To Former Encounter Specialist Pradeep Sharma; Says He Is Influential, Tampering Cannot Be Ruled Out

Amisha Shrivastava
24 Jan 2023 6:29 AM GMT
Antilia Bomb Scare: Bombay High Court Denies Bail To Former Encounter Specialist Pradeep Sharma; Says He Is Influential, Tampering Cannot Be Ruled Out
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The Bombay High Court on Monday denied bail to former “encounter specialist” Pradeep Sharma, an accused in the Antilia Terror Scare and Manshukh Hiran Murder Case citing his clout and prosecution in a past encounter.

“Considering the material on record, the same prima facie, points to the complicity of the appellant in the murder of Mansukh Hiren. The possibility of the appellant, a retired Police Officer, having clout, tampering with the witnesses, cannot be ruled out,” the bench observed.

The division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and R. N. Laddha also questioned Sharma’s presence in then Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh’s chamber in March 2021. It is the NIA’s case that Sharma and dismissed cop Sachin Waze planned Hiran’s murder within the Mumbai Police Commissionerate.

“Prima facie, the fact remains that the appellant was present in the CP Office on 02.03.2021 and 05.03.2021, for albeit no plausible reason. No plausible reason is also spelt out…for the presence of the appellant in the CP Office.”

Sharma’s claims in defence would have to be tested at the stage of trial, the bench added.

In 2013, twenty-one policemen were sentenced to life imprisonment for the fake encounter of one Lakhan Bhaiyya in 2006. However, Sharma who allegedly pulled the trigger was the only one acquitted.

“Although, the appellant was acquitted from the said offences, after a full-fledged trial, an appeal against acquittal of the said appellant has been filed by the State of Maharashtra which has been admitted.”

The Case

On February 25, a Scorpio containing 20 gelatin sticks (explosive substance) was found along with a threat letter near Antilia, the residence of Mukesh Ambani. Ten days later on March 4, 2021 businessman Mansukh Hiran’s body was recovered from the Thane creek. He was the owner of the Scorpio and has reported it missing.

In April 2021, soon after the NIA took over the investigation, then API Sachin Waze, who was initially investigating the case, was arrested along with nine others, including Sharma.

Sharma was booked for the alleged offences under Sections 120B, 201, 302, 364 and 403 of the IPC, and relevant sections of the Arms Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004. The court had earlier granted bail to co-accused Riyazuddin Kazi.

According to the NIA, Sharma conspired with Waze and others to eliminate Hiren. The Special NIA Court rejected Sharma's bail plea. Hence the present appeal.

At the outset, the HC criticized NIA’s investigation into the terror threat near the Ambani residence.

The court said that NIA has not done in-depth investigation. Sharma's name came up for the first time as a co-conspirator during a hearing and that too after being asked by the court, the bench noted. It added that the NIA has not mentioned this anywhere in the charge sheet.

NIA relied on the following circumstances to show appellant’s role in Mansukh Hiren’s murder –

1. On February 28, 2021, Sharma allegedly met Sachin Waze at Malabar Hill Police Station, then travelled in a car to Worli sea-face where they again talked.

Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda for Sharma submitted that he met Sachin Waze as then State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had asked Waze to collect Rs. 100 crores from various bars, restaurants, and pubs and threatened him with a false case from removing him from service. Therefore, Waze met Pradeep Sharma regarding this.

The court said that this is the defence of the appellant and can be considered at the stage of trial and not the stage of bail. Sharma, a retired police officer, had a closed-door meeting with Waze at the police station despite not being concerned with any of the cases, the court noted.

2. Waze and Sharma met the Police Commissioner and then met separately for about 10 minutes on March 2, 2021. The conspiracy to eliminate Hiren was born in this meeting, according to the prosecution. The court noted that no plausible reason is given for the presence of appellant, a retired police officer, in the Police Commissioner’s office.

Prosecution said that Waze and Pradeep Sharma decided to eliminate Mansukh Hiren as he was a weak link and could expose Waze. Ponda said that there was no reason to eliminate Mansukh as he was cooperating with Waze.

3. Witnesses saw Waze bring a bag containing money in his car to the P. S. foundation compound at Andheri on March 3, 2021, and hand it over to Sharma. According to the prosecution, this money was for the murder of Hiren.

The court said that since the incident took place on March 3, 2021, and the witness statements were recorded after 3 months in August, a discrepancy of 1 or 2 hours in the timing of the incident in the statements would not oust the prosecution’s case, the court said. Ponda said that even if it is assumed that Waze gave cash containing bag to Sharma, the cash was given as Waze feared that he will be arrested at the behest of Anil Deshmukh.

4. Sharma facilitated the escape of two co-accused to Nepal including one Santosh Shelar. Ponda contended that Shelar was appellant’s informant and being in touch with him cannot be incriminating. The court did not accept this contention considering Shelar’s alleged role in the murder, i.e., he smothered Hiren and disposed of his dead body.

Case no. – Criminal Appeal No. 258 of 2022

Case Title – Pradeep Sharma v. NIA

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