Aryan Khan, son of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was on Friday exonerated from last year’s drugs-on-cruise case in connection with which the youngster had to spend 26 days in custody and was subjected to a malicious campaign by sections of the mainstream and social media.
The NCB, which reports to the Union home ministry, said in a statement: “Based on an input NCB Mumbai on 02.10.2021 intercepted Vikrant, Ishmeet, Arbaaz, Aryan and Gomit at International Port Terminal, MbPT, and Nupur, Mohak and Munmum at the Cordelia cruise. All the accused persons were found in possession of narcotics except Aryan and Mohak.”
The statement, signed by NCB deputy director-general Sanjay Kumar Singh who headed the special investigation team probing the case, added: “SIT carried out its investigation in an objective manner. The touchstone of the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt has been applied. Based on the investigation carried out by SIT, a complaint against 14 persons under various sections of NDPS (Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act is being filed. Complaints against the rest six persons are not being filed due to lack of sufficient evidence.”
Sources said Aryan’s name did not feature in the chargesheet filed before a Mumbai court.
An NCB official told The Telegraph on the condition of anonymity: “The probe by the special investigation team of the NCB revealed that neither was Aryan Khan in possession of drugs nor was he part of any international drug syndicate on the basis of which he was arrested.”
The NCB had got an extension to Aryan’s custody by claiming in the NDPS court to be in possession of WhatsApp chats indicating that he was in touch with an international drug cartel.
NCB chief S.N. Pradhan said: “We have gone by the principle of evidence. We found physical and circumstantial evidence against 14 persons and against six there was insufficient evidence. We considered all facts found during the initial investigation and found no concrete evidence (against Aryan).”
Asked if Shah Rukh was questioned, Pradhan said: “Some concerned individuals were questioned, but can’t comment on names.”
Aryan’s lawyer Mukul Rohatgi said the truth had prevailed. “I am relieved, and so must my clients be, including Shah Rukh Khan. The truth has prevailed. Ultimately, there was no material to charge this young man (Aryan Khan) or arrest him,” he said.
The NCB had admitted its mistake and realised that there was no reason to proceed against Aryan, Rohatgi told a TV channel.
“I am very relieved and am sure that the young man and his father are equally relieved,” he said.
Aryan’s arrest from the cruise ship in October last year had attracted intense media attention and breathless coverage till his bail on October 28 by Bombay High Court, which said “prima facie (it) has not noticed any positive evidence against Aryan Khan”.
A lot of the media campaign against Aryan had been directed at Shah Rukh, who has been a favourite punching bag of the Right-wing ecosystem ever since he spoke up against the climate of “intolerance” in the country in 2015. He had also invited the wrath of several BJP heavyweights who suggested that he shift to Pakistan.
Throughout the media trial in the Aryan case, the actor maintained a dignified silence, making one public appearance when he met his son at Arthur Road Jail on October 21.
Shah Rukh also received immense support from his movie colleagues and people at large, with many pointing to the goodwill he had earned over the years, his many acts of benevolence away from the public eye and the growing trend of making Bollywood a “soft target” since the unprecedented slander campaign following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in 2020. When Aryan was granted bail, Juhi Chawla, one of Khan’s earliest co-stars, stood surety.
Aryan’s case had taken a twist when the then NCB zonal director, Sameer Wankhede, who led the raid on the cruise ship, was accused of demanding a bribe by an independent witness named Prabhakar Raghoji Sail. Sail claimed in a notarised affidavit that shortly after the NCB raid on October 2, he had overheard a conversation about paying Rs 8 crore to Wankhede.
Against the backdrop of such allegations and now-arrested NCP leader Nawab Malik’s relentless campaign against Wankhede, the officer was transferred from the Mumbai zone of the NCB to the agency’s headquarters in Delhi. The NCB then formed an SIT led by deputy DG Singh and shifted the case to Delhi.
Sources in the Union home ministry said the ministry had asked the finance ministry to take appropriate action against Wankhede for his “shoddy investigation”.
“The home ministry has told the finance ministry to take action against Wankhede following the clean chit by the NCB to Aryan Khan. It is now clear that he conducted a very shoddy probe into the case and tried to implicate Aryan,” a ministry official said.
The home ministry official said the Centre had already initiated action against Wankhede in a fake-certificate case. Malik, the NCP leader, had last November accused Wankhede of caste certificate forgery, claiming that the officer was born a Muslim but faked his caste certificate to get into the civil services through the Scheduled Caste quota. Wankhede and his family have denied the allegation.
M.S. Khan, a trial court lawyer in Delhi, said Aryan can now move court against Wankhede for malicious prosecution as his name had been cleared by the NCB.
“He can move court against Wankhede and file criminal and civil defamation suits seeking exemplary compensation from the official,” M.S. Khan said.
Hailing the NCB’s clean chit to Aryan, the ruling NCP in Maharashtra asked who would be held responsible for the trauma he had suffered. The party said Wankhede was answerable to the people of the country.
Ally Congress alleged that the entire case was part of a “larger conspiracy” to topple the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, in which it shares power with the Shiv Sena and the NCP.
Additional reporting by PTI