Dubai: The Aryan Khan case that has kept Bollywood fans riveted for more than a month has turned into a political quagmire involving powerful players and murky allegations of extortion and blackmail.
Aryan, who was arrested following a drug bust aboard the Cordelia Cruise ship on October 2, is currently out on bail but the ordeal and the accusations are far from over.
In the latest twist in the case, a defamation lawsuit has been filed by the father of Sameer Wankhede, the Zonal Director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) who has been facing the media storm these past few weeks for allegedly orchestrating Aryan’s arrest and the corresponding racket to extort his father, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, to the amount of Rs250 million.
The Rs12.5 million defamation suit names Maharashtra cabinet minister and Nationalist Congress Party member Nawab Malik who had earlier alleged that Wankhede was born a Muslim but he forged documents, including a caste certificate to get recruitment under quota after clearing his exams to be recruited into government service.
In response, Malik on Sunday claimed that Shah Rukh Khan’s son was “trapped, kidnapped for ransom” by the NCB, alleging that Wankhede and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Mohit Kamboj were the masterminds behind this.
The entire drama has now moved from being a rich star kid caught with drugs at a rave party to the murkier world of politics. Malik, who is leading the charges against Wankhede, is a member of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, which is a member of the coalition that rules the Indian state of Maharashtra that is home to Bollywood.
Other prominent members of the coalition are the Shiv Sena and the Congress. Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu party, was a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, but severed its ties due to differences with Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister from the BJP.
With Bollywood standing firmly behind Shah Rukh Khan, it seems like the battle lines are being drawn in this political slugfest. The NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress combined is pulling out all stops to discredit Wankhede, who is seen as a pawn of the federal government and thereby of the ruling party at the centre.
Critics claim the BJP has its own axe to grind with Malik, claiming the NCP leader is only going after Wankhede as his own son-in-law son-in-law Sameer Khan was arrested by the NCB in an alleged drug case on January 13 this year. Incidentally, Wankhede was heading that probe.
With the media pressure building up, on October 27 Wankhede also moved the Bombay High Court, seeking interim protection from arrest or any coercive action against him. He sought an urgent hearing of his plea challenging the Mumbai Police’s decision to form a four-member team to investigate the allegations of extortion and corruption against him. The Maharashtra government initially opposed the plea but subsequently, chief public prosecutor Aruna Pai assured the court that it will give prior notice of arrest to Wankhede.
In the aftermath, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising officers from the Operations Branch of Narcotics Control Bureau Headquarters in New Delhi arrived in Mumbai on Saturday to take over six cases, including the drugs-on-cruise case from the NCB Mumbai Zonal Unit that Wankhede heads.
However, Wankhede later stated that he was not removed from the Aryan case and was never the lead investigative officer in the matter. He further stated that it was at his behest that the SIT stepped in and put a rest to the accusations that have been levelled against him and the NCB at large for wrongdoing.
“I was never the investigating officer of the cases. I am still the Zonal Director. I have not been removed from my posts. In fact, I demanded in the petition [with the Bombay High Court] to investigate the allegations over me by central agencies,” Wankhede told ANI.
Who is Sameer Wankhede?
Sameer Wankhede is the Zonal Director of the anti-drugs agency that is leading the investigation that led to Aryan’s arrest. Aryan, the son of Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan was arrested on October 3 following a drug bust aboard a cruise bound for Goa. He was subsequently released on bail after spending 28 days in custody.
Wankhede has found himself in the centre of a media storm, standing accused of extortion and corruption by the Maharashtra minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Nawab Malik and a witness in the case, Prabhakar Sail.
In response, Wankhede said the drug mafia was trying to frame him and his family in false cases.
This isn’t 40-year-old Wankhede’s first brush with Bollywood. He has also made some other high-level arrests in the past when he was with the Mumbai Air Intelligence Unit. The father of two is married to Marathi actress Kranti Redkar. It is his second marriage; earlier, he was married to a Dr Shabana, an arranged marriage that took place in 2006.
The most recent high-profile arrest Wankhede made before Aryan’s was that of Agisilaos Demetriades, who is the brother to Bollywood actor Arjun Rampal’s model-girlfriend Gabriella Demetriades. The drug arrest was made in Goa.
Shah Rukh Khan’s family has also encountered Wankhede before – post a holiday in 2011, the Bollywood actor was stopped and detained for hours; he had allegedly not paid customs duty. He was finally allowed to leave after paying Rs150,000 at the time.
Where does Aryan’s case stand now?
Aryan had been arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on October 3, emerging as the first accused in the case that has seen 20 people arrested so far, including two Nigerian nationals.
The anti-drugs agency found no illegal substances on him, but claimed in courts that his WhatsApp chats proved his involvement in “illicit drug deals” and links with a foreign drugs cartel.
On October 28, the 23-year-old was granted bail by the Bombay High Court. The court listed 14 conditions for his bail - Aryan cannot leave Mumbai without informing the police, had to surrender his passport and has to appear before the agency every Friday.
Several Bollywood stars also welcomed Aryan’s release with actors such as R Madhavan, Sonu Sood, Raveena Tandon, Malaika Arora, Sonam Kapoor and Urmila Matondkar taking to social media in a show of support.