New Delhi: Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) officer, Sameer Wankhede, has a knack of doing things “differently” and in the past acted in a way that are not prescribed in the law books. This trait of his has caught the attention of the courts and generated headlines, for whichever organisation he has worked for.
Responding to the recent developments regarding the Aryan Khan case and the claims and allegations made against him and the NCB mandated vigilance inquiry against him, Wankhede told The Sunday Guardian, “All false (allegations). Won’t tolerate anybody talking nonsense on my integrity.”
Wankhede, an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) 2008 batch officer, also worked in the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s nodal agency for terror operations. During his stint there, Wankhede had handled the case of Areeb Ejaj Majeed, a resident of Mumbai, who had gone to Syria to join the ISIS in May 2014. Later, in November the same year, Areeb’s father got in touch with the NIA to arrange for the return of his son via Turkey. The same was then carried out with the help of the Indian embassy in Ankara, Turkey, which booked his air ticket and issued the necessary travel documents.
As per Areeb’s contention filed in court, he was arrested at 5.30 am, 28 November as soon as his flight landed at the Mumbai airport, but his arrest was shown by the Wankhede-led NIA team as 1.30 am, 29 November, after a gap of 20 hours during which he was interrogated at a farm house “illegally”.
Later, Areeb moved court to seek the CDR (call detail record) of his father and all NIA officers who were in contact with him before Areeb landed in India to try and prove that he was arrested before he was shown to be arrested by the NIA. On 27 March 2019, the Bombay High Court ordered telecom companies to share the CDR with Areeb despite objections from the NIA team. When contacted, Areeb’s relatives told The Sunday Guardian that they did not want to comment on the developments as they had been “harassed” enough.
Following his stint in the NIA, Wankhede moved to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) where he generated significant media headlines for handling cases related to “influential individuals”. Wankhede then moved to the NCB in August 2020 where he handled the high-profile alleged drug angle in the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
During the entire investigation of the case, the electronic media was provided with personal information including private conversations between individuals and “timely inputs” about the arrival of Bollywood actresses who were called for questioning at the NCB office, which led to a congregation of media vans and reporters at the spot. The same happened during the latest case where the personal WhatsApp chat between Aryan Khan and actress Ananya Pandey was shared with the electronic media. It is pertinent to mention that WhatsApp can share the details of communication done using its platform to government agencies but not to any private individual or a media organisation.
The conduct of the electronic media in this case has led to strong comments from both the Delhi and the Bombay High Courts that asked the electronic media to “exercise restraint”, “not to cross limit” and that it had “failed to self regulate” while “becoming the investigator, prosecutor, the judge and pass the verdict”.
The NCB also generated unnecessary headlines in the same case after Kshitij Prasad, executive producer of Dharma Productions, told the court that he was tortured and coerced into falsely implicating actors Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Dino Morea by Sameer Wankhede. “Since 27 September, I have been harassed and coerced into falsely implicating actors Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Dino Morea. I say that in this manner I am being mentally, emotionally and psychologically harassed and abused by the NCB,” Prasad had alleged to the court. He was given bail on 26 November 2020 after being arrested on 26 September 2020.
Ultimately, the NCB could not find anything against any of the high profile accused. However, the efforts put in by Wankhede to “reveal the drug nexus” in Bollywood got him the “Union Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation” for 2021.
In January 2021, Wankhede arrested Sameer Khan, the son of Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, after it was found that a transaction of Rs 20,000 was done between Sameer and a British national who was arrested earlier for his alleged involvement in the seizure of 200 kg marijuana. Sameer Khan got bail in the case in September.
In the present case involving Aryan Khan, the December 1979 born Wankhede, according to authoritative sources, took a “proactive” approach to arrest some alleged high-profile drug consumers despite his senior officers at the NCB not showing much excitement about conducting the raid on the cruise ship in question, as the input generated stated that the quantity of drugs likely to be found in the ship were unlikely to be significant—something that proved to be the case later. The NCB raid in the present case led to a seizure of 13gm of cocaine, 5 gram of MD, 21 gram of charas and 22 pills of Ecstasy.
On Friday, the Bombay High Court gave bail to Aryan Khan. The court did not even hear the complete arguments before giving bail to Aryan Khan and the two other accused, a fact which senior lawyers say proves how weak the NCB’s case was. According to senior lawyers, NCB should focus on its mandate which is to take on big drug operators rather than going after “high-profile-individuals” and wasting its time, resources and sullying its image.