| Nanda. (Fotocorp)
New Delhi, May 17: Last Saturday, he had vomited in the witness stand but today Sunil Kulkarni wasn’t afraid any more.
As he pointed his finger at the man standing metres away, a former navy chief’s grandson, the almost-forgotten BMW hit-and-run case seemed to snap back to life after eight years.
“One of the three men that came out (of the car) is standing right here in a white shirt,” the Mumbai businessman said looking at 25-year-old Sanjeev Nanda. “And then, they fled.”
For a witness termed unreliable and dropped by the prosecution in August 1999, it was a remarkable turnaround.
The other two eyewitnesses had quickly turned hostile since the January 10, 1999, accident. Sanjeev, then 17, was allegedly drunk when he hit a police check-post at nearly 200 kmph, killing two policemen and three others on the spot. He then crushed a policeman trying to stop the car.
In his earlier police statements, Kulkarni had spoken of seeing only one man get off the BMW, and hearing him address another sitting in the car as “Sanj”.
Although the police claimed “Sanj” was Sanjeev’s nickname, their failure to establish that it was Nanda who was at the wheel weakened the case.
Today, Kulkarni suggested the police had pressured him into making “weak” statements and then “used” them to drop him as a witness.
“I was under pressure from police headquarters to give a weak statement,” he told the Delhi trial court.
The statement will strengthen popular suspicion that the police had conspired to protect Admiral S.M. Nanda’s grandson.
The then 17-year-old had got bail quickly despite being the prime accused. By August 1999, Manoj Malik — the sole surviving victim — and petrol pump attendant Hari Shankar were denying even that the car was a BMW.
Forensic experts had traced a trail of fuel from the accident site to the Nanda home — the BMW fuel tank had sprung a leak.
As the years went by, the case got clubbed in the public mind with the Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal murders as instances of rich and well-connected accused escaping justice.
Amod Kanth, the then joint commissioner who was in charge of the case, rubbished Kulkarni’s allegation. “If he was pressurised by the police, why did he not tell the court earlier'” asked Kanth, now Arunachal Pradesh police chief.
It was in March this year, by when almost the entire police team involved in the case had changed, that the prosecution sought the court’s permission to produce Kulkarni again. On May 12, he told the court he had seen a black BMW hit seven people, but began vomiting immediately. He said his life was in danger and the court ordered police protection.
Sanjeev didn’t wish to comment on today’s development. The generally polite man runs Hotel Claridges, owned by his family, but is seen most often at its bar.
He avoids the media except at business meets, when he is generally accompanied by his father and international arms dealer Suresh Nanda. Suresh is accused of receiving kickbacks in defence deals like the Barak anti-missile systems.