Mumbai, Sept. 17: One of the key witnesses in the case probing Bollywood’s links with the mafia deposed today that he neither had any connection with the underworld nor was aware that the person he and Sunjay Dutt spoke to from a hotel in Nashik on November 14, 2000, was ganglord Chota Shakeel.
In July, police had made public a recording of Dutt, Sanjay Gupta, Mahesh Manjrekar and the witness, Harish Sugandh — a Bollywood financier — speaking from a Nashik hotel room to Shakeel, who was at his Karachi base. However, in his deposition today, Sugandh “recognised” his own voice and that of his three friends but said he “didn’t know whom they were talking to”.
In the conversation, which police say is concrete evidence that the Bollywood quartet and a host of others have links with Shakeel, Sugandh passes on information to the don about the good business of “Mission” (Mission Kashmir) along with inside information on the financing of Devdas.
Interjecting 102 times with the “unknown man” in the five-cornered conversation, Sugandh first acknowledges the man he is talking to as “Bhai” with a respectable “Salam”. The man then asks him: “Kya haal hai Harish, phone karna hi bandh kar diya'” To this Sugandh replies: “Phone bandh nahi kiya…woh tap hota hai naa.” Sugandh then gives his new cellphone number to the man: 9821328945.
The film financier, also a good friend of Dutt, goes on to divulge that rival don Abu Salem is not involved in the financing of the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Devdas and that the production has been totally overseen by Bharat Shah — “Total Bharat Shah present hai.”
Complaining to the man about the “filth” in Bollywood, Sugandh appeals to him to clean the muck. “Only you can do it, bhai,” he says. “Jo bhi hai, bhai…aap hi hum ko madat kar sakte hain. Bahut problem ho raha hai. (Only you can help, Bhai, we are facing a lot of problems here),” Sugandh says.
Bhai replies: “Fikar nahin karo…khali dua karo sab theek ho jayega. Zalim zyada din nahi chalta…uski hawa badi garam hoti hai. (Don’t worry, just pray. Everything will be fine. This will not last long).” Sugandh’s volte-face comes after an earlier statement in which he had identified the man he spoke to on November 14, 2000, as Shakeel.
The film financier, however, conceded that the “man” had asked him about Mission Kashmir and about Abu Salem’s involvement in Devdas and that he had passed on the required information without actually knowing who was asking for such sensitive information.
Quizzed on Shakeel after he was declared “hostile”, Sugandh said he had only “read” in newspapers that the mafia don was a “notorious extortionist”. Maintaining that he had received threats from Salem, Sugandh said he hid the information from the police as he didn’t know then that the man who conveyed the threats, Bobby Anand, was a Salem man.
In the recorded conversations, now being termed as the Sunjay Dutt tapes, Dutt and his friends exchange niceties with the man police say is Shakeel. Apart from Manjrekar wanting to make a “realistic” film on the life of Shakeel, Dutt also complains about the “bad behaviour” of actor Govinda and the threats to actress Preity Zinta.
The man, in turn, assures that while he will find out who exactly is threatening Zinta and that it will stop. He also adds that he will soon set Govinda right.