The formal interrogation of one of India’s most wanted criminals, which is expected to take place Saturday after his deportation from Indonesia on Friday, could expose a connection between the underworld and police, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) source told BenarNews.
After 27 years on the run, Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, who is known in India as Chhota Rajan or Little Rajan, was arrested by Indonesian police in Bali on Oct. 25.
Nikalje, 55, is accused of some 80 crimes ranging from murder to extortion to smuggling and drug trafficking in India. Nikalje fled to Dubai in 1988.
He is also an alleged former lieutenant of fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, but he fell out with Ibrahim after the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people in Nikalje’s hometown.
In October 2003, the United States Justice Department designated Ibrahim a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” because of his alleged financial support for al-Qaeda and aid to terrorist groups in India.
He is also accused of providing logistical support during the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai that left at least 150 dead, and is India’s most wanted fugitive.
Indian intelligence officials believe Ibrahim is in hiding in Karachi, Pakistan, shielded by that country’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
While on the run Nikalje traveled through Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Australia, “using three fake passports,” until his arrest in Bali, according to Indian intelligence sources.
His subsequent deportation to New Delhi was a “result of coordination between the security forces of Australia, India and Indonesia,” the CBI said in a statement Friday, describing it as a major success for the country.
“The Indonesian police were tipped off by their Australian counterparts about a wanted criminal who had boarded a flight from Sydney to Bali under the name of Mohan Kumar. We were in touch with security agencies from both countries to help confirm the man’s identity,” an official with India’s Home Ministry told BenarNews.
Nikalje arrived in India early Friday after departing Bali on Thursday aboard an Indian Air Force plane. He was driven to the barricaded CBI headquarters amid unprecedented security, owing to an alleged threat to his life by Ibrahim’s criminal syndicate, the D-Company.
In Bali, Nikalje told reporters he did not want to be taken to Mumbai because “many police officials are working for Dawood (Ibrahim)” and that his life would be in danger.
Ibrahim’s hitmen allegedly have tried to kill Nikalje at least twice. The most dramatic attempt on his life occurred in 2000. After being shot at, Nikalje jumped from the second floor of his Bangkok hotel, breaking his back in the fall. He later allegedly bribed hospital staff in order to evade arrest by Thai police.
A CBI source told BenarNews that Nikalje was being kept in a cell within the agency’s heavily guarded headquarters in the capital’s Lodhi Road area, adding that although officials had started quizzing him, his formal interrogation would begin Saturday.
“He has revealed the names of about 20 Mumbai police officials, who, he says, are hand-in-glove with Dawood (Ibrahim), and some of them even on his payrolls. He has also spoken of many properties in the Middle East that Dawood has invested in,” the source, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews.
“The CBI will be investigating all his claims thoroughly,” the source added.
Nikalje’s claims questioned
Bibhu Prasad Routray, former deputy director of the National Security Council Secretariat, said all claims made by the accused gangster should be treated with skepticism.
“He should not be taken very seriously. It is a well known fact that all the underworld has some kind of nexus with the police,” Routray told BenarNews, referring to Nikalje’s claims.
“It is highly likely he is making such sensational claims to extract some sort of leverage, hoping he can be let off easy if he provides India with leads on Dawood,” he said. “There’s a good chance he has no information about Dawood.”
Y.P. Singh, a former Indian Police Services officer from Mumbai, questioned Nikalje’s statements to reporters.
“[Nikalje] is not speaking the full truth,” Singh said. “Dawood Ibrahim indeed might have connections with the Mumbai police, because no gangster can flourish until they get permission from the local police. But by the same reckoning, Chhota Rajan and his gang members can have intimate connections with the police.”