Key witness dies in Aryan Khan case

Makes no difference, says lawyer; Home Minister orders probe to determine foul play

Aryan Khan (Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Aryan Khan (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

Gautam S Mengle

The sudden demise of Prabhakar Sail, one of the key witnesses in the Aryan Khan case, will not have an effect on the affidavit filed by him, Sail’s lawyer said.

Sail, a resident of Mahul in Chembur, passed away due to a heart attack on April 1 this year. Doctors have ruled the cause of death to be due to heart failure, while State Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil has ordered an inquiry into the matter to check for any indications of foul play.

Sail was a panch witness in the Aryan Khan case, in which Aryan, the son of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was arrested in the early hours of October 3 last year and spent a full 25 days behind bars before being granted bail by the Bombay High Court on October 28.

Sail used to work as a bodyguard for Kiran Gosavi, another witness in the case, who is also currently under arrest in connection with a string of cases registered against him in Mumbai, Thane and Pune.

Sail had, within a few days of the Aryan Khan case, filed an affidavit before the NCB as well as the Mumbai Police, alleging that he had overheard Gosavi and senior NCB officer Sameer Wankhede discussing the amount to be demanded from Shah Rukh Khan’s manager as a bribe. He has also alleged that his signatures were taken on blank papers, which were later used for panchnamas.

“The affidavit that we had filed before all concerned investigative agencies will retain its value as evidence in the Aryan Khan case,” Advocate Tushar Khandare, who was representing Sail, said.

The affidavit threatens an already shaky case built by the NCB, as, according to observations made by the Bombay High Court while granting bail to Aryan, there was nothing objectionable in his WhatsApp chats, which was alleged to be the sole piece of evidence against him. No drugs were recovered directly from his person and the HC also stated in its order that there was nothing in the investigation so far to suggest a conspiracy between him and his co-accused, Arbaaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha.

Ever since his arrest, Nationalist Congress Party leader and Cabinet Minister Nawab Malik has made a series of explosive allegations against the NCB, its case against Aryan and its Mumbai Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede.

The first of these allegations were regarding Manish Bhanushali and Kiran Gosavi, both of whom were seen escorting Aryan and the other accused to the NCB office on the day of the raid. Bhanushali has been revealed to be a member of the Bharatiya Janaya Party, while Gosavi is wanted in several criminal cases in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.

The NCB, in turn, issued clarifications saying that both Bhanushali and Gosavi had appeared as independent witnesses in the case. Bhanushali, on the other hand, told the media that it was information provided by him that led to the raid.

Legal experts say that these allegations will have a very adverse effect on the case at trial stage, as they are very damaging in more than one way.

“The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) lays down clear guidelines as to what kind of panch witness should be used, and the law also states that the identity of the witnesses as well as informants should not be disclosed. By revealing that Bhanushali and Gosavi were panch witnesses, the NCB has damaged its own case, as well as endangered their safety. The NCB could have revealed this information at trial stage. Plus, the criminal cases against Gosavi have affected his credibility as a witness. All of this will definitely have an adverse effect on the case at trial stage,” advocate Nitin Satpute said.

Serving officers with the Mumbai Anti Narcotics Cell added that the NDPS Act is very stringent and attaches a great deal of importance to procedure. “The Act is so strict that we don’t even release pictures of the seized drugs in our cases to the news media, as defence lawyers can establish at trial stage that the chain of evidence was damaged in releasing the pictures.

“With such strict rules under the Act, so many revelations regarding the witnesses within the first few days of the investigation are completely undesirable from a conviction point of view,” a senior officer said.

Advocate Iqbal Sheikh, who also retired as ACP, Mumbai Police said that witnesses have the most value if they appeared as ‘panch’ for the recovery of the seized drugs.

“In a drugs case, the seizure panchnama and the expert opinion of forensic experts about the seized drugs form the basis of the conviction. If the credibility of the panch witnesses is affected, it means that the seizure panchnama itself has suffered in terms of credibility. I believe the ongoing controversies with absolutely affect the case negatively once it reaches trial,” Sheikh said.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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