Mumbai, Jan. 20: In a suspected revenge killing, Sharad Shetty, a member of Mumbai’s underworld masquerading as a businessman in the Gulf, was shot dead last night in a club in Dubai.
Police in the emirate said Shetty, 43, was shot at point-blank range and died on the spot around 8 pm while, some reports suggested, he was entering India Club.
Shocked witnesses watched the killers dressed in dark suits pump five bullets into Shetty and flee, according to a report. Another report, however, quoted a source as saying that a lone gunman went up the stairs of the club and shot Shetty as he was entering the hall to attend an engagement there.
One of the employees of the club — earlier known as the India Sports Club — said Shetty, a member, had been invited to a dinner hosted by two other members. His wife, Shashikala, was seen being escorted by a lady out of the club nearly three hours later and leave in a police car.
Shetty owned two hotels in Dubai — Regent Palace and Regal. He was a long-time associate of Dawood Ibrahim but some reports suggest he had parted ways with the don and set up his own businesses in the emirate. He had business interests in Abu Dhabi, too.
He leaves behind his wife, daughters Swayam and Shraddha and son Sandeep.
Shetty’s murder follows the detention of Dawood’s brother Anees here last month and his subsequent release and escape to Pakistan despite persistent Indian efforts to have him deported to India. One revenge theory suggests he was bumped off because he had a role in Anees’ arrest. Another said Shetty might have been killed by ganglord Chhota Rajan to avenge a hit on him in Bangkok.
Sridhar Wagal, joint commissioner of police (crime branch), Mumbai, said it could either be Rajan seeking revenge or “internal work-related factors of the Dawood group”.
A third theory claimed Shetty had fallen foul of south Indian gangster Muthappa Rai, who was deported from Dubai recently in a move that was trumpeted as a huge victory for India.
Shetty was suspected of tipping off police of Rai’s presence here.
Whatever the motive — and Mumbai police is unwilling to put forward a specific theory — the murder has jolted the Dubai authorities in a manner that might please New Delhi which has tried and failed several times to lay hands on fugitive criminals who had taken shelter in the United Arab Emirates.
Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, commander-in-chief of Dubai police, was quoted as saying he regretted that some members of the Indian community had become a source of trouble in the emirate.
“The kind of murder we are investigating today has been repeated more than once. The murder should be an eye-opener. It should encourage us to review our visa and investment policies and make sure that those with a criminal background cannot live amongst us,” he said.
“The crime is not an ordinary incident. It is an action of organised gangs who opted to solve their differences here in Dubai,” Tamim added, suggesting that the murder could have been an act of revenge.
He warned that “this lesson” would prompt the authorities to review policies, including facilities given to expatriates.
Dubai has been a long-standing base of the Indian underworld on the run from the law.
Mumbai police, which have been diligently tracing the career of Shetty, a petty trader who metamorphosed into an adroit don with an interest in the drug trade, said the murder would deal a crippling blow to the underworld. But they also feared it would suck rival dons into a vortex of gangland wars.
Wagal said: “We will keep an eye on any possible fallout of this development.”
Shetty had stayed with Dawood even after the Mumbai underworld cracked on religious lines after the 1992 bomb blasts. They began by smuggling gold through an air route that would later become famous as the “sweeper line”.
The duo hired people who brought in gold from Dubai and dumped it in a dustbin at Mumbai airport before they reached customs officials. A sweeper on the airport staff, bought over by the gang, would collect the gold and hand it over to them. The modus operandi was busted in 1981.
Mumbai police say Shetty was also the pivot of a cricket match-fixing cartel, which he ran with the help of a Karachi-based Pakistani associate.