There is no evidence that Aryan Khan, the son of actor Shah Rukh Khan, was part of a larger drugs conspiracy or an international drugs trafficking syndicate, and there were several irregularities in the raid on the yacht Cordelia during which he was arrested, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), India, has found, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.
Indeed, contrary to the allegations of NCB's Mumbai unit, some of the key findings of the SIT, shared by officials with HT, are: Aryan Khan was never in possession of drugs hence there was no need to take his phone and check his chats; the chats do not suggest Khan was part of any international syndicate; the raid was not video-recorded as mandated by the NCB manual; and the drugs recovered from multiple accused arrested in the case shown as single recovery.
To be sure, the SIT probe is not complete and it could be a couple of months before it submits its final report to NCB Director General S N Pradhan. A legal opinion will be taken before the final decision, particularly on the aspect whether Khan can be charged for consumption even though he was not carrying any drugs , said one of the officers.
The SIT probe seems to raise more questions over the raid itself, and the conduct of the agency's former Mumbai Zonal Unit director Sameer Wankhede.
Wankhede, who has since been repatriated to his parent cadre, has been examined multiple times – both by the SIT and the agency's vigilance team -- to get to the truth in the case.
Wankhede led a team of officers and some witnesses on the night of October 2 last year to raid a cruise ship, Cordelia, at International Cruise Terminal at Green Gate in Mumbai. NCB seized 13 grams of cocaine, five grams of mephedrone, 21 grams of marijuana, 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy), and ₹1.33 lakh in cash from cruise vessel.
Significantly, the initial findings of the SIT probe substantiate the observations by Bombay high court, which granted bail to Khan on October 28 last year while saying that "there was no evidence to suggest existence of any conspiracy", the officials said.
SIT's review of the Cordelia probe which involved questioning all the arrested persons, witnesses, officials at the Mumbai unit who took part in the dramatic raid along with Wankhede, has also revealed that Khan never asked his friend Arbaaz Merchant to bring drugs on the cruise; a fact corroborated by the latter during his questioning.
The procedural lapses are already being looked into in a separate vigilance enquiry being carried by the agency.
From the cruise ship, the agency intercepted 14 persons and after hours of interrogation placed Aryan Khan, 24, Arbaaz Merchant, 26, and Munmum Dhamecha, 28, under arrest on the afternoon of October 3. Subsequently, the agency arrested 17 more persons in connection with the raid.
Relying on WhatsApp chats, Wankhede's team claimed the accused were part of a larger conspiracy. It alleged that Aryan Khan was in touch with some foreign drug supplier and the chats referred to "hard drugs" and "bulk quantities".
However, rejecting NCB's claims, a single bench of justice Nitin W Sambre of Bombay high court noted that there was no evidence to suggest existence of any conspiracy.
The judge said merely because Aryan Khan and others, including his friend Arbaaz Merchant and model Munmun Dhamecha, were travelling together on the cruise by itself cannot be termed as foundation for a conspiracy.
"After having gone through the WhatsApp chats extracted from Applicant/Accused no. 1's phone (Aryan's phone), nothing objectionable could be noticed to suggest that Applicant nos. 1 & 2 (Arbaaz) or all three applicants (Aryan, Arbaaz and Munmun) along with other accused persons in agreement had meeting of minds and had hatched conspiracy," said the judge.
"There is hardly any positive evidence on record to convince this Court that all the accused persons with common intention agreed to commit unlawful acts," the judge added.
The court also refused to accept NCB's contention that both Khan and merchant told agency officials that they were going to consume the six grams of marijuana.
The high-profile case got shrouded in controversy when a key NCB witness alleged that the agency's Mumbai zonal chief Sameer Wankhede was part of a ₹25 crore extortion racket targeting Khan .
The witness, Prabhakar Sail, also alleged that he was forced to sign sheets of blank paper, prompting the anti-drug agency to set up an inquiry into Wankhede.