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Don in hiding, mother in jail for murder

Mumbai, Aug. 5: He is a don on the run and she his 72-year-old mother who has just been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Mumbai builder.

Neither police nor the courts have been able to lay their hands on Thane don Suresh Manchekar, but the long arm of the law has finally caught up with his mother, Laxmi Dhanraj Manchekar.

Suresh, who, encounter specialist and senior police officer with the Thane crime branch Ravindra Angre says, is hiding somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, had conspired to kill businessman Mahendra Khanvilkar on March 22, 2000.

Khanvilkar, who had made a name for himself as a builder, was killed for not coughing up extortion money. The gangsters had demanded Rs 15 lakh from him along with a flat. Khanvilkar’s associate Deepak Sawant was seriously hurt in the shootout. The police hold that the conspiracy to bump off Khanvilkar was hatched in Laxmi’s presence.

A kind of a godmother figure, Laxmi has also been accused of sheltering the accused after they committed the murder and arranging for their escape.

Two others who were today sentenced by a special court to life imprisonment, along with Laxmi, are the Manchekar gang’s henchmen Amol Shankar Vichare and Shashikant Mahadeo Birje. They have been asked to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh each. The case was tried under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

While Devendra Lad, another accused, has already been sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act, Datta Pawar, a Manchekar lackey, has been acquitted for lack of evidence. But the police say it is too early to talk of the end of the Manchekar gang.

Suresh is believed to be hiding possibly in Indore, but “seven to eight of his sharpshooters are still very active in Mumbai”.

Manchekar, who has the distinction of not aligning with underworld dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem and Chhota Rajan, started as a small time thug working the bylanes of Mumbai’s central suburbs as well as centres like Thane and Ulhasnagar.

Always focusing on extortion, Suresh shot up in the underworld firmament with the murder of a local corporator in Shivdi in 1989. By the time he went underground, he was wanted in 20-25 cases of murder.

Angre says he started off with around 30 gang members but all are not active today. “But seven to eight of his main men are still on the prowl,” says Angre, adding that “the hardcore extortionist has a huge list of 70-75 victims”.

The gangster is also wanted in the Khanvilkar case and will be tried separately when he is arrested.

With most of the big gangsters either dead or out of the country, Manchekar is the only don of any reckoning still in India.

“He is still active,” Angre, the man who is credited with some of the most daring and controversial encounters, says. “But we will get him too.”

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