A high-profile probe into an alleged drug bust involving actor Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan Khan will no longer be headed by Indian Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Mumbai chief Sameer Wankhede after the controversial officer was divested of the case by the agency on Friday.
Wankhede, who is facing an internal vigilance probe on extortion charges and other allegations of forgery and misrepresentation, will continue to head the NCB's Mumbai zonal office, and supervise other probes in the region.
The Aryan Khan case, and five others, will now be investigated by the agency's operations team in Delhi.
"As per the direction of director-general, total six cases of Mumbai zone including cruise drug bust case have been handed over to the operation team, Delhi, for further investigation," said Indian NCB deputy director-general Mutha Ashok Jain.
"Wankhede will continue holding the post of zonal director, Mumbai, and will supervise other cases of Mumbai unit."
Jain said the order for the transfer of cases was issued by NCB chief SN Pradhan.
"The action has been taken on administrative grounds and as these six have wider and interstate ramifications, they have been transferred to the operations unit in Delhi," he added.
A special investigation team led by deputy director general (ops) Sanjay Singh will take over the six cases.
"A Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising officers from Operations Branch of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Headquarters has been constituted by the Director General, NCB to take over a total of 06 cases from NCB Mumbai Zonal Unit which have national and international ramifications, in order to conduct deeper investigation to find out forward and backward linkages," a statement from Singh's office said.
"No officer or officers have been removed from their present roles and they will continue to assist the Operations Branch investigation as required," the statement added.
Wankhede led the raid on the cruise ship Cordelia docked off the Mumbai coast on October 2, and arrested Aryan the next day for alleged possession of drugs and conspiracy under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The 23-year-old was granted bail by the Bombay high court on October 28 and he walked out of jail last Saturday. On Friday, he appeared before the NCB -- one of the bail conditions. In all, 20 people were arrested in the case and 14 are out on bail.
But two weeks ago, a key witness, Prabhakar Sail, alleged that he was forced to sign blank papers by Wankhede on the night of the raid, and that the officer was part of a ₹25 crore extortion racket targeting Aryan.
Experts also questioned the apparent breach of protocol – private individuals with no ties to law enforcement were present during the raid and later at the NCB office – and the relatively small quantity of drugs recovered – only 6 grams of charas were found from Aryan's friend Arbaaz Merchant's shoe. Wankhede's position was further weakened by repeated allegations by Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, who accused the officer of forging his caste certificate to land a government job.
"Sameer Wankhede removed from 5 cases including the Aryan Khan case. There are 26 cases in all that need to be probed. This is just the beginning... a lot more has to be done to clean this system and we will do it," the minister tweeted shortly after the transfer of the cases on Friday.
A drug case allegedly involving Malik's son-in-law Sameer Khan was among the cases transferred to the NCB's Delhi team, said an NCB official from the Mumbai unit.
Wankhede rubbished the claim and said it was his writ petition in court that the matter be probed by a central agency.
"I have not been removed from the investigation. It was my writ petition in court that the matter be probed by a central agency. So Aryan case and Sameer Khan case are being probed by Delhi NCB's SIT. It is in coordination between NCB teams of Delhi and Mumbai," he told news agency ANI. He has also repeatedly denied the allegations by Malik and accused the minister of violating his privacy.
Wankhede is currently facing an NCB vigilance inquiry headed by deputy director general (DDG) Gyaneshwar Singh, based on the allegations by witness Prabhakar Sail. The team came to Mumbai from Delhi on October 24 and has recorded the statements of eight people, including Wankhede. A special investigation team of the Mumbai Police is also looking into the charges levelled by Sail.