'Sonawane demanded bribe'

The investigations into the brutal murder of Additional Collector Yashwant Sonawane by the oil mafia have taken an intriguing turn after some of the accused in the case told the investigators that the officer had demanded bribes from the ring leader Popat Shinde to settle the case.

While such statements are taken with a pinch of salt by the detectives as an attempt by the accused to derail the investigations, it has also come to light that Sonawane was building a case against Popat for past four-five months, which must have infuriated the mafia boss.

Sonawane, who was responsible for monitoring civil supplies including kerosene in the district, had seized around 4,500 litres of kerosene and 2800 litres of petrol during a raid at Panewadi near Manmad four months back.

The seized material belonged to Shinde, and the officer had reportedly recommended action against him under the Essential Commodities Act.

Externment cancelled

But no action was taken by the authorities. In fact, Popat, who has been externed from Manmad, got the externment cancelled using his political contacts. He was also facing six cases of adulteration and pilferage of kerosene.

Now investigators say that all these cases and Sonawane’s earlier report on raids might come in handy to book the accused under Maharashtra’s stringent anti-organised crime act Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), which makes it extremely difficult to obtain bail.

Confession evidence

Also under the MCOCA, confessions and statements of co-accused can be used as evidence.

While Popat is struggling for life at J J Hospital in Mumbai after suffering over 60 per cent burns, the 11 other accused including his son Kunal are in police custody at Manmad till February 8.

Police sources said Kunal has alleged in his statement that Sonawane demanded a huge amount of bribe to settle the matter at Sagar ‘dhaba’ from the accused, after spotting oil theft and adulteration.

Thorough probe

Nasik’s superintendent of Police Milind Bharambe, under whose supervision the case is being investigated as of now, said the murder would be probed from all angles.

According to the statements of some of the accused, Sonawane got down of his car after spotting the oil theft and summoned Popat.

During their inteaction, the accused stated, the officer allegedly asked for a huge bribe which Popat promised to pay later, but as the officer refused to wait, the argument turned bitter and Popat lost his cool.

Popat himself is yet to record his statement. He is currently under observaton at the J J hospital.

Oil mafia in Manmad operates uninhibitedly. This is where nearly 300 tankers are filled everyday with fuel from massive oil depots. Manmad hosts a major intersection of four highways.

From here, oil tankers make their way to Malegaon, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagar. Drivers of the tankers are seen brazenly stealing kerosene from the trucks they drive.
These tankers are locked after they are filled up, but the mafia has duplicate keys.

Popat has been working for the oil mafia for nearly 30 years. Once a roadside snack seller, he befriended truck drivers who operate at the massive oil depots in Manmad.

He learnt the tricks of the oil pilferage trade and soon made enough money to own two oil tankers.

He built up his own gang which poured kerosene on Sonawane and set him on fire.

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