NCB Used the Same Panch Witness for 5 Cases in Last One Year: Report

Nawab Malik was the first one to allege that the agency has used the same panch witness for multiple cases.

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The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has once again come under scrutiny after several allegations were made against the agency, following Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan’s arrest in the Mumbai cruise drugs case. Aryan Khan was granted bail on 29 October.

As per an Indian Express report, out of the ten independent witnesses used by the NCB in the case, the same panch witness, Adil Fazal Usmani, who has been used in at least five other cases since 2020, has been used.

Questions were raised against two others, Kiran Gosavi, who is now under arrest and was identified as an accused on the run in another case when his selfie with Aryan Khan went viral, and Manish Bhanushali, who is associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Maharashtra Minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik has in the recent weeks, made several allegations against the NCB and its Mumbai Zonal Director, Sameer Wankhede, who spear headed the NCB raid on the Cordelia cruise in Mumbai earlier this month.

Malik was also the first one to allege that the agency has used the same panch witness for multiple cases. Malik had shared one Fletcher Patel’s panchnama to demonstrate the same.

Meanwhile, another witness, Prabhakar Sail, alleged that Sameer Wankhede had made him sign on bank papers. Sail had also alleged that he overheard discussions of a Rs 18 crore deal between Gosavi and one Sam D’Souza, out of which Rs 8 crore were to be paid to Wankhede.

While NCB officials claim that getting new panchs is “practically difficult”, the courts have stressed that since habitual panchs are “under the thumb of police”, they cannot be considered as independent witnesses.

Apart from Usmani, Gosavi, Bhanushali and Sail, the NCB listed Aubrey Gomez, V Waigankar, Aparna Rane, Prakash Bahadur, Shoaib Faiz and Muzammil Ibrahim as panch witnesses in the Mumbai cruise drugs case, some of whom work as security staff of the cruise, Indian Express reported.

Usmani, a Jogeshwari resident, has been used in at least five cases since 2020. Notably, an anonymous letter by an NCB official shared a few days ago by Malik levelling allegations against Wankhede in as many as 26 cases, has reference to a “drug peddler” Usmani, from whom the NCB sourced 60-gram MD to plant in a different case (24/2021).

However, Usmani, named in the NCB panchnamas does not have a criminal record in the Sessions Court or police records.

Though Fletcher Patel wasn’t listed as a witness in the Mumbai cruise case, he has acted as a panch witness in NCB cases 16/20, 38/20 and 2/21, all registered in the past year.

Following Malik’s allegations, Patel had said that he was an Army veteran who was happy to help government agencies and that he had met Wankhede at a function a few years back, Indian Express reported.

While searches and seizures are conducted by officials, the panch witnesses is present so as to rule out planting of evidence and testify during trial. Moreover, Section 100 of the CrPC states that the panchs “shall be independent and respectable inhabitants” of the locality where a panchnama is being drawn.

However, NCB officials claim that there is nothing unusual about using the known people as panch witnesses, since most people are either apprehensive about getting involved or are even frightened to accompany a drug raid. Similarly, other agencies have also used "habitual witnesses" in the past.

(With inputs from The Indian Express.)

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