CASE STUDY 14: Damned, But Not Guilty As Charged

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Sujata Nikalje, Wife of mafia don Chhota Rajan

CHHOTA RAJAN is one of India’s two biggest mafia dons. The other is Dawood Ibrahim. Once Rajan was Dawood’s lieutenant. Now they are sworn enemies. Both have been absconding overseas for two decades. The police have ostensibly moved heaven and earth to bring the fugitives to justice, but without success. Shouldn’t the chances of the police skyrocket if they catch a brother or a wife of the dons, especially if there is evidence that the kin have been in touch with the gangsters?

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FACT FILE

• Mafia don Chhota Rajan absconded 20 years ago. In 2005, his wife Sujata was arrested in Mumbai

• Police said Sujata ran Rajan’s extortion and construction rackets and laundered his money

• But a MCOCA judge gave her bail after 22 months, saying police had failed to prove any of the charges against Sujata

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Last week, we detailed shocking police ineptitude that allowed Dawood’s brother, Iqbal Kaskar, who was charged with running Dawood’s mafia in Mumbai, to be acquitted under MCOCA. Now we bring the story of Rajan’s wife, Sujata Nikalje, also booked under MCOCA, who has won half the court battle already by earning bail.

After Rajan fled India, Sujata stayed back at their home in the central Mumbai neighbourhood of Tilak Nagar. Not once did the police link her with her husband’s underworld activities. Until December 13, 2005, when Mumbai Police arrested her on charges of extorting money from builders redeveloping housing projects in her area, or forcing them to hand over those projects to a company she ran, or to developers related to her gang. Police also said she gave Rs 2 crore (obtained from Rajan) to a chartered accountant, who gave it to eight firms to buy shares in her company.

As the reader knows, bail is virtually impossible under MCOCA. Predictably, the trial judge threw out Sujata’s bail application less than four weeks after arrest. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court upheld that call. A year later, she moved for bail again after six other accused were given bail. The trial judge nixed her application. But in August 2007, on a direct plea from her, the Bombay High Court directed the trial judge to consider her bail application saying he is “expected to consider the impact of the change in circumstances”.

And what a staggering change in circumstances it turned out to be. In a stinging 85-page order, Special MCOCA Judge AM Thipsay virtually dismissed every charge against Sujata. “It is made to appear that the redevelopment work is totally controlled by [Sujata’s] organised crime syndicate, but the material in the charge – sheet fails to, even remotely, indicate that,” he wrote. “The allegations against… the applicant [Sujata] are exaggerated.”

The judge found that Sujata’s company got the contract for only two of the 100 buildings being redeveloped by 40-odd developers. Police claimed she forced residents of a society to give her their business. “There is nothing to suggest that the residents were even suggested — much less threatened or forced — by anybody,” he wrote. Besides, Sujata’s company fully paid the previous builder.

POLICE CLAIMED Sujata had threatened these residents at a meeting. But the minutes of that meeting do not refer to her presence. The judge said the minutes “rather suggest — positively — of her absence” at the meeting. Besides, if the claim was true, then why didn’t the police seek “any explanation” from the housing society for not mentioning Sujata in the minutes?

In another housing project, police claimed Sujata’s gang threatened its residents to give her the contract. But she never got it. The judge said the police have “not tried to solve this mystery and no attempt has been made to reconcile how despite threats by the applicant, the residents did not give the work to her.” In one case, residents said Sujata’s company gave them a “better offer”. One co-accused of Sujata’s who police claimed was a “favourite” builder of her gang got no contracts whatsoever.

Of the claim that Sujata gave a chartered accountant Rs 2 crore for eight companies to buy shares in her firm — to turn “black” money to “white” —the judge said there was no proof that those companies actually got that money. “The cash was not traced during the investigation,” he wrote. “No explanation has been given why no attempt to trace or seize it was made.”

Nearly two years after arresting her and seizing her company’s documents, police failed to prove illegalities by her company, which sold 45 flats and five shops in two buildings. “Nothing has been brought on record to show that the transactions shown by the applicant are sham or bogus,” the judge wrote. “[Money laundering] cannot be just assumed because she happens to be the wife of Chhota Rajan.”

Even the phone chats intercepted between Rajan and Sujata do not “disclose… [a] nexus with the commission of organised crime”, the judge said. “I am of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the applicant [Sujata] is not guilty of an offence punishable under the MCOCA.” So much for a law that police tom-tom would bring mafia lords to heel.

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