Blood money trail

  • Behold the law: Peter Mukerjea being produced at a Mumbai court on November 23 | PTI
  • Indrani Mukerjea

The CBI believes money to be the main motive behind Sheena Bora's murder

After being out of news for nearly a decade, the C3 bungalow on south Mumbai's Madam Cama Road sprang back to life on the evening of November 19. The bungalow, which houses the office of the special task force of the Central Bureau of Investigation, was the centre of media attention when underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's lieutenant Abu Salem was brought here after his deportation from Portugal in December 2005. On November 19, it had another high-profile guest. After his arrest, former media tycoon Peter Mukerjea was brought here for questioning about his alleged complicity in the murder of his stepdaughter, Sheena Bora.

The Maharashtra government's decision to hand over the case to the CBI had raised doubts about the manner in which the Mumbai Police had handled the murder case. Almost coinciding with Peter's arrest, the CBI sought clarification from Deven Bharti, joint commissioner of police (law and order) of the Mumbai Police, about Peter and his wife, Indrani, visiting him between April and June 2012, soon after Sheena had disappeared. Bharti, who was then with the crime branch, has admitted to being “approached” by the couple. He has submitted his explanations to the CBI and was quoted as saying that “the accused couple talked to me over phone on this.” But he did not elaborate. Pravin Dixit, the director general of police, told THE WEEK that his department had no knowledge of the matter.

Peter and Indrani sought Bharti's help to locate Sheena by tracking her mobile phone. But later they told him that she had been traced. A police officer said it could have been an attempt to convince everyone that the Mukerjeas were looking for Sheena.

The government has asked Dixit to explain why no FIR or accidental death report was registered after Sheena's skeletal remains were found in Raigad in 2012. R.D. Shinde, who is now additional commissioner of police (central region), was superintendent of police, Raigad, back then. “Former DGP [Sanjeev Dayal] submitted a one-page report to us, but I was not satisfied with it. I said supporting documents would be needed to take action against a senior police officer,” said K.P. Bakshi, additional chief secretary (home).

According to Dixit, whatever needed to be said had been conveyed to the government before September 30. “There is hardly anything new to be communicated further,” he said. Lawyer Abha Singh alleged that the failure to register an FIR after finding Sheena's remains smacked of complicity of a few senior police officers.

This is the second time that the Maharashtra government has expressed its displeasure over the conduct of the Mumbai Police in the Sheena Bora case. Before transferring commissioner Rakesh Maria on September 9 and effectively removing the case from under his watch, the government had publicly questioned his style of functioning. “In my 30-year-long career, I haven't seen a commissioner station himself at a police station to probe an individual case,” Bakshi had then said, referring to how Maria handled the investigation.

The CBI seems to have hastily cobbled together a charge sheet, detailing the meteoric rise of Indrani, her three marriages and the birth of her children. It calls her a “social climber”. More than keeping track of Indrani's personal life, the challenge for the CBI is to unravel the financial mess caused by the Mukerjeas, especially with INX Media, a company which they launched in 2007 with a lot of fanfare and by hiring a large number of journalists, paying them “unsustainable salaries”. “The culture of the organisation was far removed from the regular media environment one gets to see around,” said a senior journalist, who had worked with the Mukerjeas. Within two years, the company ran into major losses, and Peter and Indrani got out, selling off their shares and moving to the UK, most probably because Peter held a British passport.

The CBI is probing the financial trail behind the launch of INX, its subsequent sale, and the details about a maze of private limited companies owned by Indrani, such as INX Executive Search, IM Media, Indrani Incon, INX News, INX Services, Indrani Mukerjea News and INX Media. There are allegations that Sheena's murder could be linked to some of these transactions.

The CBI is exploring the email and phone conversations between Peter, his son, Rahul, and Indrani. Rahul, who was in love with Sheena, had been suspicious after Indrani told him that Sheena was in the US and that she did not want to meet him anymore. This made him confront his father and in many of his email conversations with Rahul, Peter seems to be evasive about Sheena's whereabouts. In a conversation in May 2012, which took place most likely after Sheena's death, Peter wrote to Rahul, “I think you are wasting your time worrying about her.”

These emails could help the CBI in establishing that Peter knew about Sheena's murder, which would make him an accomplice. There is a recorded phone conversation between Peter and Rahul in which the father tries to convince the son that Sheena is doing fine in the US. Many believe this phone call must have led to Peter's arrest.

The CBI is also investigating whether Peter has “destroyed evidence” by “redacting communications” that were revelatory in nature. Peter, however, reportedly said he believed Indrani's explanation that Sheena was alive and well in the US and that he had once spoken over phone to a girl whom Indrani introduced as Sheena.

Peter has been taken to Delhi and his custody extended till November 26. There are unconfirmed reports that Peter was shifted to Delhi to subject him to lie-detection tests. For the one-time media mogul, the ordeal may have just begun.

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