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Ex-Maha minister Khadse to get relief in Dawood case, whistleblower arrested

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 1 April 2017, 10:44 IST

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Maharashtra revenue minister Eknath Khadse has reason to celebrate. After being in political isolation for the last nine months, the biggest allegation levelled against him – of being in contact with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim – is all set to fall flat.

The hacker who claimed to have accessed the telephone records of Dawood's conversations with Khadse has been arrested by the Mumbai Crime Branch.

Manish Bhangale, a self-proclaimed ‘ethical hacker’, had alleged that Khadse was in contact with Dawood. He had produced mobile phone bills belonging to Khadse to back his claims.

According to Sanjay Saxena, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime): “Bhangale was arrested on Friday after thorough investigations proved that his allegations were baseless. The mobile phone bill, claimed to be that of Khadse, turned out to be fabricated.”

Bhangale was arrested for forging documents to create false evidence against Khadse. He was booked under Sections 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of IPC, read with Section 66D of the Information Technology Act.

How Bhangale toppled Khadse

Bhangale had come up with these allegations in mid-2016. His allegations sent shockwaves through Maharashtra's political circles, as Khadse was the senior-most leader of the ruling BJP and an important minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government.

Khadse, who held portfolios like revenue, industries and agriculture at the time, was already facing flak for misuse of power to grab industrial land near Pune at dirt cheap prices.

Bhangale's allegations, therefore, came as the last straw on the camel's back, and Khadse resigned from the cabinet on 3 June 2016.

The course of the probe

Given the seriousness of the allegations, the Mumbai Crime Branch began investigations into the allegations, and the documentary evidence produced by Bhangale.

The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) then gave a clean chit to Khadse, and asked Bhangale to substantiate the allegations, and to prove the authenticity of the telephone bill he produced as evidence. When Bhangale failed to do so, he was arrested.

“When we verified the call records of the mobile phone claimed to belong to Eknath Khadse, there was no evidence of any international call – incoming or outgoing – from the phone, leave alone any call from Pakistan. This raised doubts about authenticity of the mobile bill produced by Manish Bhangale. Then we started verification of the bill he produced, which turned out to be fabricated,” said a senior ATS official.

Like the ATS, the Mumbai Police, too, could not find concrete evidence to support the allegations. “We did not find any evidence to support the allegations that Khadse was in contact with Dawood Ibrahim during September 2015 and April 2016, levelled by Manish Bhangale during a press conference in Mumbai,” said a senior police official.

'Govt targeting whistleblower'

The aforementioned press conference and subsequent agitations against Khadse were initiated by Aam Aadmi Party leader Preeti Sharma Menon, who exploited the issue to the fullest.

Even after Bhangale's arrest, Menon remained defiant, blaming the government and the police for protecting Khadse.

“The government is attacking the whistleblower. Police authorities gave a clean chit to Khadse within four hours. Manish has been arrested at the behest of Khadse."

First published: 31 March 2017, 22:29 IST