“No officer or officers have been REMOVED from their present roles and they will continue to assist the operations branch investigation as required until any specific orders are issued to the contrary,” an official statement said.
“It is reiterated that the NCB functions across India as a single integrated agency,” the official statement added, seeking to counter reports that Wankhede had been divested of the high-profile investigation.
However, the decision to set up an SIT does take the spotlight away from Wankhede, who found himself in the midst of a controversy and a political crossfire between the Nationalist Congress Party and BJP. NCP’s Nawab Malik has been attacking Wankhede, alleging bribe-taking and claiming the officer has been hiding his “Muslim” identity. The officer has strongly denied the allegations while BJP has attacked NCP and the Maharashtra governing coalition over the drug bust.
After the NCB order became public, Malik claimed that he has been “justified” while Wankhede’s wife posted the official release on social media to say “rumours” should not be believed and that there is no truth in claims that the officer has been removed from the investigation.
“I’ve not been removed from 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’s a coordination b/w NCB teams of Delhi & Mumbai,” an ANI report quoted Wankhede as saying. Wankhede said a senior IPS officer will now be probing these cases.
A 1996-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, Sanjay Singh, will head the SIT. Singh is currently posted as deputy director general (ops). “An SIT comprising officers from operations branch of NCB headquarters has been constituted by the director general to take over a total of six 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,” DDG Sanjay Singh said.
Commenting on reports that Wankhede had been removed from the case, the NCB denied that any of its officers had been removed from their present role, something which sources said was “technically” correct as the cases have been reassigned to another unit instead of any officer being shuffled.
Apart from Aryan Khan, cases involving Malik’s son-in-law Sameer Khan, actor Armaan Kohli and three other cases have been reassigned to the operations unit. Wankhede was supervising all these cases though the investigating officers were different, a source at NCB said.
The decision of reassigning the cases came following a detailed report submitted to DG NCB S N Pradhan. Earlier, DDG Gyaneshwar Singh was tasked to conduct a vigilance inquiry into allegations levelled in Aryan Khan’s case. The IOs of the six cases have been asked to hand over case files. A team from operations unit is likely to go to Mumbai on Saturday to take over the investigations, sources said.