Mumbai/New Delhi, Apr 7 (IANS): Seen close to the Shiv Sena leadership and regarded as the 'encounter king of Mumbai' for eliminating over 300 criminals, former Senior Police Inspector Pradeep Sharma was quizzed by the National Investigation Agency(NIA) over his series of meetings with Sachin Vaze, the head of Crime Branch's Criminal Intelligence Unit, arrested on charges of planting an explosive laden SUV near Antilia, house of top industrialist Mukesh Ambani.
Former encounter specialist Sharma's interrogation adds a new twist to the much talked about extortion racket in India's commercial capital which has hitherto seen the resignation of Anil Deshmukh, the high-profile Home Minister of Maharashtra. Sources said that Sharma's questioning can shed light on the role of several cops and political leaders associated with Vaze.
Highly placed sources revealed to IANS that Pradeep Sharma, who fought the Maharashtra Assembly polls on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2019, had been in regular touch with his former protege Vaze, as per the call data records of the mobile phones used by the accused police officer.
To probe deep into the mystery of planting an SUV near Ambani's house, and Vaze's links with higher officials, the NIA summoned Sharma at its office in Mumbai on Wednesday. "This nexus of police and politicians involved in the extortion racket has to be exposed. We hope the NIA will gather evidence and unmask the leaders in the government, patronising the extortion racket," Ram Kadam, spokesperson of the BJP, told IANS.
Sources said that Vaze's erstwhile boss in the Crime Branch, Pradeep Sharma, now a Shiv Sena leader, had met his former subordinate Vaze at Mumbai police headquarters in the first week of March. Besides meeting Vaze, Sharma has also seen Vinayak Shinde, an accused along with Vaze in the murder of Mansukh Hiran, whose SUV was used in planting explosives.
Vinayak Shinde, a tainted constable, had earlier worked with Sharma and was reportedly introduced to Vaze through the encounter king. Sources said that another important meeting between Sachin Vaze and Pradeep Sharma was held outside the crime branch office, probably somewhere in western suburbs of Mumbai.
After a series of such meetings, Vaze was subsequently not seen in his office for days, and was finally arrested by the NIA on night of March 13.
Three-times BJP MLA Ram Kadam said that Sharma's interrogation is crucial. "At this moment, I can only say that how come officers close to Shiv Sena like Vaze and Sharma are being grilled by NIA? Why are officers close to the top leadership of Shiv Sena under the lens?" asked Kadam.
IANS made several attempts to contact Pradeep Sharma but he did not respond. A former police officer close to Sharma said that once his interrogation gets completed, Sharma would likely speak to the media to give his side of the story.
It is perceived that Pradeep Sharma and Sachin Vaze were close since their early days in the police department. Later the encounter duo came close to the Shiv Sena leadership. It was initially Vaze who joined the Shiv Sena in 2007 and was appointed party spokesperson.
In late 2019, when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra, Sachin Vaze, who was placed under suspension for years, got reinstated in service by the state government in 2020. Close on the heels of Vaze, his former boss Sharma too resigned from police service and joined the Shiv Sena in 2019. He was given a ticket by the party to contest from the Nallasopara seat of state assembly but lost the polls.
However Sharma's relations with Vaze and Shiv Sena grew even stronger. No wonder, Sharma was spotted in all important functions of Shiv Sena leaders held in Mumbai.
Both Pradeep Sharma and his former sub-inspector in the Crime branch, Sachin Vaze had gunned down dozens of sharpshooters of the Dawood Ibrahim gang.
While Vaze claimed to have killed 63 gangsters in police encounters, Pradeep Sharma reportedly eliminated over 300 criminals in his 35-year-old police career. Sharma, who has a large following in the police, is also known as "Encounter King" by his team members for killing the highest numbers of wanted gangsters.
Scripts of several Bollywood films, including Ab Tak Chappan, Satya, Company and many more were inspired by Pradeep Sharma's action against the dreaded Mumbai underworld dons.