Just when the developments surrounding 48-year-old Thane based businessman Mansukh Hiren’s death, and the alleged involvement of Assistant Police Inspector (API) Sachin Vaze could not get any more scandalous, Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad’s (ATS) investigation brought out some bombshell revelations. Vaze who currently now under the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and is the primary accused in the ‘Antilia bomb scare’ has also been identified by Mumbai ATS as the alleged mastermind behind the Hiren murder plot.
According to ATS investigators Vaze employed the help of Constable Vinayak Shinde, a convicted policeman and former colleague who worked with him in Police Inspector Pradeep Sharma’s infamous ‘encounter squad’ which eliminated over 600 gangsters during the height of the Mumbai underworld. The Investigators revealed that Vaze had recruited former encounter specialist Shinde to help carry out the killing. The constable had already been convicted of an extrajudicial killing in 2007 and was out of parole when he was approached.
How it allegedly went down…
According to the investigators the plan to murder Hiren was hatched inside a luxury hotel. Shinde had reportedly approached Hiren, who was the owner of the Gelatin laden Mahindra Scorpio found outside Ambani’s residence under the false pretext of investigating the bomb scare in an official police capacity. The ATS investigation also revealed that Shinde had procured 14 sim cards registered in Gujrat, with one such sim card used to contact the victim. The sim cards were taken into custody by the investigators.
Anatomy of a killing
Vaze called Hiren to meet in the evening and told him that if his wife asks about where he is headed, he should lie and inform her that he got a call a police officer named Tawde from the Kandivali police station. It is reported that he refused to meet under false pretenses and let his wife know the truth of where he was going. Hiren had left home at 8:30 PM to the designated spot. Upon reaching Ghodbunder road in Thane he got into a car with four occupants including Vaze.
The car was reported to have been driven around for a while before the occupants took out chloroform, put it on handkerchiefs and attempted to render Hiren unconscious. Post-mortem reports indicate ante-mortem injuries to his face, meaning the victim had sustained injuries before death. Reports highlight ante-mortem bruises to the left side of his cheek, lips, eyes among other areas of the face, indicating a scuffle. Other than facial lacerations there were no bruises or signs of injury anywhere else on the deceased’s body.
The chloroform laced handkerchiefs had eventually rendered Hiren unconscious. He was then strangled. His body was subsequently thrown into a creek in Mumbra (Thane district). The body was found wearing a Coronavirus face mask with the handkerchiefs found beneath it.
According to forensic experts, cloth in the mouth may have been used to prevent water from entering the lungs, resulting in the body remaining submerged for longer. The rationale behind this, as explained was that the human body tends to become buoyant when in water for a long time, as a result of water entering the lungs and other parts of the body, which in the context of a potential homicide could lead to early detection. The occurrence of a low tide was said to have led to an earlier detection of Hiren’s body. A diatom test was also carried out into the case. According to the ATS, the entire murder and disposal of the body was carried within two and a half hours.
Anatomy of a cover-up
To cover up the alleged involvement, Vaze attempted to mask his whereabouts. He headed over to his office at 11:00 PM following which he gathered his team for a raid at Tipsy Bar in Dongri. After carrying out the raid he went back to his residence. According to the investigators, Vaze’s team attempted to divert the investigation by switching on Hiren’s cellphone in Vasai at 12:30, in an attempt to make it look like he was still alive. Vaze was also present during Hiren’s post-mortem at Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial Hospital. Prompting the ATS to re-examine the statements of the three doctors who carried out the autopsy and prepared the initial report, claiming the cause of death as drowning.
The NIA in their investigation spotted Vaze the day the SUV was found outside the Ambani home. “Vaze had worn an oversized kurta-pajama to mask his body language and had covered his face with a cloth to conceal his identity,” said the NIA in a statement. He was taken into NIA custody.
The NIA took Vaze to the where the SUV was discovered in an attempt to re-construct the crime scene and made a breakthrough in the course of their investigation, with Vaze having confessed to planting the SUV outside Antilia.
Vaze however denies involvement in the murder. Hiren had registered a police complaint in Vikhroli on 17 February 2021 claiming that his car was stolen. This was eight days before his Scorpio was found parked outside Antilia with gelatin sticks.
A portrait of a killer
Vaze has maintained a checkered police career, right from his time as a rising encounter specialist as part of a crack Mumbai police team, tasked to take out members of the Mumbai mafia. He is alleged to have killed anywhere between 68-72 gangsters. He was suspended in 2002 for an alleged case of custodial torture of a suspected Indian Mujahideen member, following which he joined the Shiv Sena.
Vaze was reinstated into the Mumbai Police in 2020 at the behest of Shiv Sena, citing ‘manpower shortages to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.’ He was re-inducted into the Crime Branch’s Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU), which some claim is the unofficial nerve center of the Mumbai police force. His reinstatement into this extremely sensitive appointment too has been called into question. The CIU is reported to directly answer to the Mumbai Police Commissioner of the day.