By Sushil Kutty
Who’s afraid of the Antilia explosives scare case? So far five “policemen” are in the NIA net. Two of them encounter specialists of the ‘Ab Tak Chappan’ variety, the extremely scary Sachin Vaze, and the dreaded Pradeep Sharma who is said to have shot dead 113 Mumbai underworld gangsters during a career spanning 25 years. Sharma, the more “celebrated” of the two, was arrested on June 17, 2021, following a raid at his Andheri East residence.
Sharma’s arrest speaks of a “larger conspiracy” behind the Antilia explosives, and the cold-blooded murder of Mansukh Hiren. The ex-encounter specialist was produced in a Mumbai court along with two other accused and remanded to NIA custody. The trio is allegedly part of the “larger conspiracy” to plant gelatin sticks in the Scorpio that assistant inspector Sachin Vaze parked outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s residence ‘Antilia’ in February 2021.
Businessman Mansukh Hiren was initially linked to the Scorpio, but things changed after his body was fished out of the Thane Creek following disclosures made by then Mumbai Police assistant inspector Sachin Vaze, the prime accused in both the cases, and whose arrest led to the transfer of then Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, and the subsequent resignation of Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
The two men who were arrested on June 17 along with Pradeep Sharma are Satish Mothukari aka Tanni/Vicky Baba, and Manish Soni. The two had in cahoots with Santosh Shelar and AnandJadhav killed Hiren in a red Tavera car on Ghodbunder Road in Thane. Hiren’s lifeless body was then dumped in the Thane Creek, allegedly on the orders of Pradeep Sharma and Sachin Vaze, who was also allegedly running an extortion racket targeting Mumbai’s bar owners.
The NIA had claimed that Vaze was the mastermind behind the Antilia explosives and Hiren murder, but now, after Pradeep Sharma’s arrest, that needle of suspicion might have shifted to Pradeep Sharma, who was always the “Boss” of Mumbai Police’s band of trigger-happy encounter specialists, many of them drawn from the notorious “1983 Batch” of sub-inspectors.
During the June 17 raid at Sharma’s residence the NIA seized a printer, a computer and a laptop; an illegal firearm and ammunition to match. Some incriminating documents were also found. The operation lasted several hours, and was done in the presence of Sharma and his wife. Sharma was picked up the previous night from Amby Valley near Lonavla and brought to Mumbai.
It’s said that Shelar, Jadhav and Mothukari informed Vaze and Sharma of Hiren’s murder, who then allegedly paid them a “large sum of money”. Some of that “reward” has been recovered by the NIA. It’s alleged that the entire crime was planned by Pradeep Sharma and Sachin Vaze. Now Mothukari and Soni have “confessed”, and the Tavera with blood stains in it has been seized, and dna collected.
Pradeep Sharma is an ex-jailbird. The last time he went in, it was for four years, and it took some nerve to be in the midst of gangsters he had been gunning for as an encounter specialist. But this time, Sharma’s goose is cooked, says the NIA. Why was this ex-cop encounter specialist roaming around with an unlicensed firearm? Why did Hiren’s killers talk to him, brief him after the murder?
Sharma denies the charges, but he cannot trust Vaze, who will be saving his own skin. Vaze and Sharma had first met in the Mumbai Police commissioner’s office three decades ago and had quickly become fast “friends”. Sachin Vaze was, however, not in the elite “1983 Batch” of which Pradeep Sharma was the star!
Soon after joining the Mumbai Police as a sub-inspector posted at the Mahim Police Station, Sharma was noticed for his skill with the gun – a fast-draw specialist – when he shot to pieces a pair of psychopath killers named Javed and Rahim in a Ghatkopar chawl.
Sharma excelled in intelligence gathering and was among a bunch of police officers tasked with executing a string of encounter killings of notorious gangsters in the late 1980s and 1990s. But then Sharma was consumed by the very same underworld he was gunning for. He was forced to quit after the “fake encounter” of Ramnarayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiyya in 2006.
Then followed several years of being in and out of service. In between Sharma became a private detective and a Shiv Sena politician. And like Sachin Vaze, he too contested the 2019 Maharashtra assembly elections, which he lost by over 40,000 votes. Now, destined to join Sachin Vaze in Taloja Jail, with Vaze maybe naming him an accomplice, Sharma could be in big trouble. His only recourse lies with the Shiv Sena, which will at the same time be hard put to explain its links with a pair of encounter-specialists and murder accused. (IPA Service)