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Sharma scapegoat cry in court

Mumbai, Dec. 2: For 35 years, Ranjit Singh Sharma sent criminals to jail. Last night, he had them for company.

For the scam-tainted former Mumbai police chief, who spent last night in a Pune lock-up barely 24 hours after retiring as an additional director general, it could well be the beginning of a long haul behind bars.

A Pune court today remanded the IPS officer, arrested in the Rs 39,000-crore fake stamp paper scam, in police custody for another seven days.

Sharma, arrested after five sessions of intense grilling by the special investigation team (SIT) which is probing the Abdul Karim Telgi scam, was produced before judicial magistrate M.. Bondre, who sent him to police custody till December 9.

The 1968 batch IPS officer would have retired as Mumbai police chief holding the rank of a director general had he not been sucked into the scandal. The retired officer, arrested under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, has been charged with shielding Telgi and some of the police officers who helped him out. There is also talk that Sharma took an unspecified but large sum of money from Telgi as bribe.

In court, Sharma said he was being “singled out” for unfair treatment by the SIT and that he had an “unblemished record” of 35 years in the police department. “Those responsible for helping the Telgi syndicate have been left out and I have been pinned down in this case,” he said.

He said the SIT had charged him for the same lapses, which had been mentioned in the government chargesheet served on him in the departmental inquiry. Hence this amounted to “double jeopardy”.

His lawyer Vijay Nahar chipped in, saying: “This is like putting the cart before the horse.”

Sharma had earlier said that 19 ministers and politicians, along with some policemen, figured in a diary confiscated from Telgi, a charge the scamster refuted from Bangalore. “There are no politicians named in the diary,” Telgi said.

The prosecution, however, seemed well armed in its argument against Sharma, the first police commissioner in the country’s history to be arrested for links with organised crime.

“We will have to investigate whether Sharma was under political pressure to give patronage to Telgi and, if so, who are the politicians involved,” prosecutor Raja Thackre said, adding that the former police chief knew quite well what Telgi was doing.

Thackre also said police officers known to have cosied up to Telgi were put in charge of investigations in the scam. After the court proceedings, Sharma was rushed to a city police lock-up.

If what has happened to Sreedhar Vagal, another senior IPS officer under arrest in the scam, is any indication, Sharma will not have it easy in jail.

Vagal, a joint commissioner of police, has been refused special treatment by the court and his pleas to be treated as a class A undertrial has been repeatedly dismissed.

The court did not entertain Vagal’s appeal even when he said his life would be in danger if he shared the same space with hardened thugs and underworld elements.

In Mumbai, policemen from the Anti-Corruption Bureau and those in the SIT jointly raided Sharma’s house and confiscated some documents.

Sources said that if convicted, Sharma — arrested under Sections 3(2) and 24 of the Maharashtra crime act, usually reserved for underworld figures, and charged with abetting organised crime and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code — could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

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