Mansukh Hiren was reported missing on Thursday.
THE owner of the vehicle that was found parked outside the south Mumbai home of industrialist Mukesh Ambani last month, was found dead on Friday.
On Thursday night, the family of Mansukh Hiren, 47, had lodged a missing person’s complaint with the Thane police.
An officer said that on Friday morning, the Mumbra Police in Thane was informed about a body floating in the Kalwa creek which was later identified as Hiren’s. The local police have registered an accidental death report.
The Indian Express has learnt from police sources that while the cloth mask around his mouth was found intact, his mouth was stuffed with pieces of cloth.
Police said Hiren’s son told them that his father went missing after he left his shop at Crawford Market around 8 pm on Thursday after receiving a call.
The caller, police said, had identified himself as ‘Tawde’ and said he was a policeman investigating the February 25 incident outside the Ambanis’ Antilia home, where Hiren’s stolen Scorpio was found with gelatin sticks and a threat note inside it.
DCP Zone 1 Avinash Ambure said Hiren told his son that he was going to meet the policeman near Godbundar area in Thane and left in an auto rickshaw. His phone has been switched off since 10.30 pm that night.
On Friday, speaking in the Assembly, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis asked for the matter to be transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Fadnavis alleged that he had Call Data Records to show that Assistant Police Inspector (API) Sachin Vaze of the Mumbai Police, who was the Investigating Officer of the case till Thursday, had been in touch with Hiren even before the Scorpio in the Antilia case was traced to him. This, Fadnavis alleged, was suspicious and hence needed an NIA probe.
Late Friday, the government announced the transfer of both the Antilia case as well as Hiren’s death case to the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Mumbai Police.
Hours after the Scorpio was found parked outside the Ambani residence, police had traced the vehicle to Hiren. The registration number of the vehicle had been changed and there were attempts to scratch out the chassis number as well. A case was registered at the Gamdevi police station and the matter was handed over to the Crime Investigation Unit (CIU).
Hiren, a Thane resident who ran an automobile business, told the CIU in a statement that on February 17, his vehicle broke down while he was on his way from Thane to Crawford Market. He parked it on the Eastern Express Highway in Vikhroli and hired an Ola cab to Crawford Market. He said that when he went to get the vehicle the next day, it was missing, and he got an FIR registered at the Vikhroli police station.
Though Hiren’s statement was recorded several times after his car was found outside Antilia, police are yet to identify or trace the culprits. On Thursday, the matter was transferred from Vaze to ACP Nitin Alakhnure.
Speaking in the Assembly, Fadnavis raised a series of allegations against API Vaze. Saying that he had call data records to show that Vaze had spoken to Hiren in June-July, Fadnavis said, “It is also curious that Vaze was the first person to reach the spot where the Scorpio was found, before the local police or any other unit of the Crime Branch. Vaze, like Hiren, is a resident of Thane. Also, on the day Hiren came to Crawford Market, where the Mumbai Police Headquarters is located, he met someone there. It is easy to find out who he met. Police already have the number of the Ola car he took that day. They just need to ask the driver.”
He added, “It is also curious that suddenly, two days ago, the investigation in the case was taken away from Vaze and handed over to an ACP-ranked officer. I want to know why this case was transferred. In order to remove all suspicion, the matter should be handed over to the NIA.”
When contacted about Fadnavis’s allegations, Vaze said, “The person also stays in Thane and I may have met him. I do not know anything about the CDR. I was not the first person who reached the spot after the Scorpio vehicle was found.”
On Hiren’s death, Vaze said, “He had complained of harassment by the police and media to the Thane and Mumbai Police Commissioners.”
Responding to Fadnavis in the Assembly, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said, “The Maharashtra Police, Mumbai Police and Thane Police are competent enough to investigate the matter. Are you angered by Vaze because he was the person who arrested Arnab Goswami in the Anvay Naik suicide case? You give us whatever details you have and we will investigate the matter.”
Responding to Hiren’s death, Fadnavis said, “We had demanded protection for Hiren earlier. There is an attempt being made to show that he committed suicide. His death should be investigated properly.”
Hiren’s wife Vimal told reporters: “Hiren can never think of committing suicide. He has been cooperating with the investigators in the gelatin matter. He told us that he was called by one Tawde from Kandivali Crime Branch and he was going to meet him at Godbundar road. I want police to conduct a thorough inquiry.”
Hiren’s elder brother Vinod told The Indian Express, “He was called to Mumbai CP office almost every day and was asked the same questions. Hiren had told us that he was being harassed by the police.”
He added that Hiren had submitted a complaint about the harassment to both the Mumbai and Thane police commissioners.
Family members and close friends who gathered at Chhatrapati Shivaji Hospital in Kalwa, where his body was sent for post-mortem, said Hiren was a swimmer and would not end his life by jumping into water. “There is a possibility that he may have been killed. We want police to probe thoroughly,” said a close friend.