EXCLUSIVE: 'Not possible that Sachin Vaze acted alone; there are other cogs in the machine'
Shirish Thorat, a former Deputy Superintendent of Goa Police who is now settled in the United States, spoke exclusively to Asianet Newsable's Sunita Iyer about his friend and Mansukh Hiren murder case prime suspect API Sachin Vaze. He explains why the issue that Mumbai Police is faced with today is not about one rogue cop, but that of a systemic failure.
"This is not the Sachin Vaze I knew," says Shirish Thorat with conviction when Asianet Newsable reached out to him to know more about the Assistant Police Inspector of the Mumbai Police who is now under investigation for allegedly orchestrating a businessman's murder and planting a vehicle with explosives few blocks away from businessman Mukesh Ambani's residence.
Shirish Thorat, a former Deputy Superintendent of Goa Police who is now settled in the United States, spoke exclusively to Asianet Newsable's Sunita Iyer.
Mumbai Police is stuck in a quagmire of conspiracy, extortion, murder and political manipulation. What's your take on the scandal?
Well, in one sentence, it is actually painful to watch. One does not expect a sort of Pandora's box of this dimension to open up in what is widely considered as a premier institution as far as policing is concerned in India. So very shocking. There were preliminary rumours or indications that all is not well of course and those were being felt and talked about in grapevine between professionals and retired officers like me. But the true dimensions which are unfolding every day, are very painful for me to watch personally.
Why do you think an explosive-laden vehicle was parked near Mukesh Ambani's residence in the first place?
I have an entirely different theory on that. First of all, let us not forget that there was neither any bomb nor was any attempt to build one. A bomb consists of different parts like explosive substance, power source, circuit switch, detonator and shrapnel. What we have here is 20 loose sticks of gelatine which are perfectly harmless until somebody makes an improvised explosive device out of that. So by itself, the main charge of bombing or terrorism does not stand true here.
As far as the location of this so-called bomb or collection of explosives is concerned, it is about one kilometre away from Antilia. So I fail to understand how this (case) is tied with Mukesh Ambani's residence. In fact, if you look at the geographical location, there is another institution close by which houses BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre). There is a helipad much nearer, about a quarter of a kilometre from that place, which could be the target. So I do not understand how the media seems to have automatically linked the bomb with Mukesh Ambani's residence. I personally think it has nothing to do with that.
NIA is investigating the case with Sachin Vaze as a prime suspect and conspirator? What are your views on Sachin Vaze and this case?
Sachin Vaze has been a close friend of mine ever since the time we met at the academy. I am talking 30 years ago and we have remained in constant touch. We have supported each other. We have both had ups and downs in life. We have put food on each other's table. To be very frank, we entered into business and enterprises where I was actually a passive director. I did not invest anything nor was I a shareholder. It was purely to help a friend who was struggling to make a livelihood.
He wasn't really a very successful businessman and in fact, he started several businesses and all of them more or less collapsed. He wasn't very good at carrying out business. His knowledge of law and investigation is actually impeccable. He has got a very good command of the laws, very innovative. He has got several copyrights to his name. He evolved analytical software for call detail records. He also brought out a case law dictionary. With me, he also prepared a couple of Apps (mobile applications) concerning parental regulations and parental supervision. We have also developed other Apps which help in law enforcement. He also made (something) like an Indian Facebook -- it was another social media platform called Lai Bhari which also was successful for some time and then it sort of fell apart. So has been very inventive and he is a person of unquestioned intelligence.
It is a subject of bewilderment to me -- I am forced to believe it purely by the content coming out, the nature of the content and the evidence coming out. I do not condone that for a moment. But I am bewildered that as to how an intelligent man like him and an officer of his experience would do these things in a damn silly manner and that's the biggest question in front of me. He could have been a bit more sensible -- not that I advocate anybody doing that, but any person would have taken much more precautions and not left so many evidence behind.
So I am seeing basically a delink of the person I knew for so many years and the behaviour of a person right now. Somewhere down the line something horribly has gone wrong with Sachin Vaze.
You have co-authored the book 'The Scout: The Definitive Account of David Headley and the Mumbai Attacks' with Sachin Vaze. What was the entire experience like?
I moved to the US in the year 2013, and it happened to be a particularly severe winter, and you know, being a newcomer to the US, I was sort of homebound and frankly bored out of my mind. It was Sachin (Vaze) who came up with the idea. 'Why don't we write something on this, you know?' It initially started with me writing, and it started with my book. The more I went down into the subject and explored, the more I realised that I needed more material and more research, which Sachin in India, with his sources, was in a better position to get. And then I told him, if you are going to work hard as I am on this story, it is only fair that you and I co-write this book, and that's how we undergo the journey. He is very methodical. He is very fastidious. He does his research and homework very well, you know, and that is excellent. He has written a book on the same subject in Marathi, which did very well. Yes, I have done a lot of things with Sachin and enjoyed all of them.
When was the last time you spoke to Sachin Vaze, and what was the conversation?
The last time when I spoke to him was two days before his arrest, and he was very nervous. He was very apprehensive about his arrest. He told me that he anticipates getting arrested, and at that moment, what could I do was to tell him that I would look after, make sure that the family... he knows that there is a friend whenever they need. I know the family very well, his wife, I know his daughter, I know his brother and everybody.
I also asked him, 'tell me if you want to say anything.' The only thing he basically told me that he was going to be arrested, and everything and all sort of charges are going to be put against him like it happened the last time in 2004.
So it was not a very easy conversation for both of us. After four or five minutes of conversation, somebody came at his end and he disconnected saying he will call me later.
In an interview you said Sachin Vaze told you that he will be made a scapegoat in the case. Do you think he is completely innocent as he claims?
I have no doubt in my mind that Sachin is involved to a great degree in this. The only thing, as I mentioned earlier, puzzles me is that even if he were to do which no criminal things which nobody can condone -- I certainly don't -- if he has done that, I think he should face the maximum (punishment) considering that he did it while he on official duty.
There are certain things that I cannot ignore even if it was done by my friend. As to whether he did it alone, no it's not possible. The very fact that there was one person dragging the Scorpio and then another person dragging the Innova means that there was a minimum of two people there and other events have transpired since then. I do not want to comment on an ongoing investigation because that would be unprofessional of me. But I do not see how a mere API can embark on such a crusade, however misguided or whatever his intention may be. So definitely there are other cogs in the machine and I am very sure a premier institution like NIA going to unearth everything.
Did Sachin Vaze speak to you about how he became head of the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Mumbai Police overnight?
It is no secret that Sachin Vaze was a Shiv Sena loyalists he has been with the Shiv Sena for the better part of two decades. Ok, even though he was very close to Shiv Sena leadership, I still could not believe at first that he had been reinstated. That's because it seems to be a practical bureaucratic impossibility. He was already out on bail on an earlier murder case because Khwaja Yunus' mother had submitted a petition in the high court. The high court has questioned the reinstatement of Sachin Vaze. To me, it was the eighth wonder of the world how it could be done.
The only way it could have been done, was with the approval of the chief minister himself. Not even the police commissioner would have dared to reinstate Sachin Vaze under the circumstances.
To me, it was obviously clear that it was the Shiv Sena leadership that brought him in from the cold after seventeen years of exile.
Investigations so far have revealed that Sachin Vaze has a penchant for expensive cars...
Sachin Vaze always loved new toys. It was no secret. He had to have the latest laptop, the latest mobile phone... he was a gadget freak. Every one of his friends knows that. With cars, he liked big and expensive cars even when he couldn't afford them. That used to be a source of friction between him and me many times even when we were doing business. Maybe if we did an audit or something together, we use to get a large chunk of money. I would put my money in the bank and he would go out to buy a car. And I would tell him what are you doing? But no, he had to have the car. Yes, it was a weakness. So it was a matter of both amusement and chagrin simultaneously for his friends that if a person gets five, seven or ten lakh Rupees by doing an audit or a security job, rather than consolidate his finance and put in a bank account, he would go out and make a beeline at the nearest showroom, plum down that money, take a loan on the other and come back with a car and a loan on his head. So that's how he was.
What are your views on the allegation of Rs 100 cr extortion levelled by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh?
I have heard his submissions. I have read the whole letter properly. He clearly mentions that he has voiced these concerns to the chief minister and other leaders. At that level, you don't put everything in writing. Some things are supposed to be settled even if you voice it in a meeting. I do not disbelieve him when he says he has voiced it. He is much too senior officer, I have too much respect for him. He will not make a frivolous charge of this magnitude.
Overall, the image of the Mumbai Police has taken a beating in this whole episode. What's your take on this?
I am glad that you brought that topic because this is something that nobody seems to be wanting to address. What I have seen for the last ten days is just a big huge Sachin Vaze bashing festival. Everyone comes on every possible television channel. They start bashing Sachin Vaze and Mumbai police. My submission is Mumbai police is just like any other institution like the Army, Navy and Air Force, has a strictly regulated hierarchy. It operates on the principle of leadership and supervision.
Above the API, there is a senior Police Inspector and Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Additional Police Commissioner, a Joint Police Commissioner and a Police Commissioner. There is a chain of command. The police department runs on supervision and leadership.
When you have an API, who in the last ten months after the reinstatement after a period of 17 years is engaging in increasingly puzzling behaviour, he is moving with luxury cars, he is seen bypassing several commands, he seen taking decisions that exceed his paycheque and pay grade, he is seen in different scenarios, the behaviour is abnormal, what does that say about supervision? What does that say about leadership?
I think if we have to stop salvage anything out of this trainwreck. We should finally address the police reforms.
In my judgment of Sachin Vaze's behaviour of the last ten months, particularly of the last two months, I fail to recognize my friend in that person. Something has changed. I know that he is medically having problems. He has got a very bad heart condition. I know he was taking the medication without supervision. It is bound to have impaired his judgment and reasoning. And I can't stress enough there are too many silly mistakes and too much evidence left over for an intelligent police officer like him to do. Everything has to be looked at. It cannot just be addressed as one rogue cop. No, that's not the problem. It seems to be a systemic issue here.