In the dock

Published : Mar 11, 2005 00:00 IST

The police are after two gutkha barons for their alleged links with the underworld.

in Mumbai

INDIA'S two big gutkha barons, Rasiklal Dhariwal and Jagdish Joshi, are wanted by the police for their alleged links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. Interpol has put out a red corner alert to track them down and the court has issued non-bailable arrest warrants. Dhariwal and Joshi, both non-resident Indians (NRIs), are apparently in Dubai. Dhariwal owns Manikchand and Joshi heads Goa Gutkha.

Dawood and his brother Anees allegedly settled a dispute between the two in January 2000. Dhariwal and Joshi were business partners until 1995 when Joshi left to start his own company. The Police said Joshi demanded Rs.50 crores as his share for having contributed to the growth of the company, but Dhariwal refused to pay up.

The police version goes like this: In 1999, Joshi asked Anees Ibrahim to help him get the money from Dhariwal. The trio met in Dubai, but here too Dhariwal refused to pay. Then, they were summoned to Karachi to meet Dawood, who finally settled the dispute for Rs.11 crores. In return for his help, Joshi agreed to give Anees Rs.4 crores. Later, he helped Anees set up a gutkha factory near Karachi, which was started in February 2001.

The links between the gutkha business and the underworld were unravelled when the Mumbai Police arrested an Anees aide, Jamiruddin Ansari alias Jammo, on August 27, 2004. Jammo admitted to have threatened a Mumbai businessman supplying gutkha manufacturing machines to Anees' factory via Dubai. Anees had refused to pay the Rs.2.5 lakhs due to the supplier.

The police have also arrested Rajesh Pacharia, the son-in-law of Joshi's brother, who sent the machines to Anees. Two other accused, Anees and his agent in Dubai, Farukh Mansoor, are wanted by the police. Dhariwal and Joshi have been summoned for interrogation, but are not listed as accused in the case. After they did not show up, non-bailable arrest warrants and an Interpol alert were issued against them. "They are big businessmen. Until we hear their statements, we cannot slap a case against them," said a policeman involved in the investigation. The case has now been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Some believe that the police have protected the powerful gutkha barons. Initially, the investigators asked senior officials to sanction their arrest. The file was sent back asking for evidence. The team produced telephone records and Jammo's statement. When the file went back to senior officers in the Crime Branch to clear their arrest under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), the decision was delayed for more than one month. This gave the gutkha kings enough time to flee the country. The Mumbai Police's reputation was dented last year when Police Commissioner R.S. Sharma was arrested for complicity in shielding Abdul Karim Telgi, the main accused in multi-crore fake stamp paper scam.

Both Dhariwal and Joshi have challenged the validity of the non-bailable warrants in the Bombay High Court. While the hearings were under way, the High Court had temporarily stayed their arrest. Their lawyers have argued that the law does not allow the police to issue non-bailable arrest warrants to witnesses; they can be issued only to the accused. Since both the gutkha kings are not accused in this case, the warrants against them are not legal, they argue.

"Dhariwal will return to the country. He has to remain in Dubai to complete 182 days abroad to qualify for NRI [non-resident Indian] status," said Rajendra Shirodkar, his lawyer. Dhariwal completes 182 days as an NRI on March 23, 2005. He also pointed out that Dhariwal had left the country on October 13, 2004, much before he was called for interrogation on December 2, 2004. Jamiruddin Ansari, who confessed to the police and told them about the gutkha kings' dealings with the underworld, was arrested on September 27, 2004. Why the police took so long to summon them for interrogation, he asked.

Meanwhile, the Filmfare awards, usually sponsored by Manikchand, refused to be associated with the company after reports of Dhariwal's links with the underworld. Film actor Sanjay Dutt, who endorsed Goa Gutkha, announced his intention to cut ties with the company. Dutt is battling to clear his reputation, as he is accused of being involved in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case.

The controversy acquired a new twist when Joshi gave an interview to a television news channel on February 15 saying that he left Manikchand after he discovered that Dhariwal had close links with Dawood's gang. "I tried to warn Dhariwal and also advised him to end his relations with the underworld. But he said that it was all beyond his control," Joshi said in the interview. Dhariwal's lawyer denied that his client had any links with the underworld.

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