The Bombay High Court today handed over to CBI the probe into Bollywood actress Jiah Khan's death, five months after Mumbai police concluded it was a case of suicide and charged her live-in partner Suraj Pancholi with abetting it.
The 25-year-old British-American actress was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her Juhu home on June 3 last year. Noting that they wanted the truth to emerge, a division bench of justices V M Kanade and P D Kode directed CBI to take over the case from the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Mumbai police immediately and carry out further probe.
The order was passed on a petition filed by Jiah's mother Rabia Khan, who had raised strong suspicions about her daughter's death being a case of murder and not suicide, as claimed by police in its charge sheet filed in January this year. The court, while handing over the case to CBI, said it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of investigation done by the police. The judges made it clear that they were not finding fault with Juhu Police who had probed the case.
The court had earlier asked the state and police to form an SIT to probe whether it was a case of murder as Rabia had disputed the investigations by producing forensic evidence privately obtained by her to indicate that her daughter could have been killed. However, SIT did not begin the probe as Rabia had objected to the investigating team having the same officers who had conducted the probe earlier.
The court today said that it was handing over the case to CBI because SIT had the same officers who had probed it earlier and also as Rabia had produced reports of forensic experts to indicate that there was lacuna in the probe.
The Judges also asked the police and the state to extend logistical support and other help required by CBI to carry out further probe.
Juhu police had in January filed a charge sheet in the case, accusing Suraj, son of actors couple Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab, of abetting Jiah's suicide. Suraj had a live-in relationship with Jiah and had allegedly sent a "break up" bouquet to her which prompted her to take the extreme step, police had claimed in the charge sheet.
The court noted that Rabia had cited circumstances to point out there was a possibility of Jiah having been killed. She also produced reports of forensic experts on the injury marks found on the deceased.
Rabia, in her petition, referred to an air-conditioner in Jiah's bedroom being on but windows open when she was found dead. There was no explanation as to how Jiah reached the ceiling fan to hang herself when there was no stool in the house, Rabia said, claiming there was a foul play.
Rabia blamed Suraj for her daughter's death and said she had carried out a sting operation on a few witnesses who said in an audio recording that they had not told the police what had been recorded in their statements, thereby raising doubts about the police version that Jiah had committed suicide. Rabia alleged that the police had ignored the opinion of a forensic expert procured by her.
The expert said prominent injury mark on her neck was not possible to have been caused by a muslin 'dupatta' Jiah was claimed to have used to hang herself. Also, the injury mark had two prominent outer lines running parallel to each other which was possible if a belt was used for murder. Besides, injury marks on the lips, chin and hands of the deceased had not been explained at all, she alleged.
Government pleader Purnima Kantharia, however, refuted the allegations, saying the points of doubt raised by Rabia had been covered by the police in their probe. The murder angle had also been investigated and ruled out. Kantharia said the window of Jiah's room was open because a friend of Rabia had told the police that she had opened it as she wanted to smoke.
The government pleader also ruled out the possibility of someone entering Jiah's room from the window as there was a garden below and there would be mud marks in case of an intrusion. As regards Rabia's allegation that fresh blood marks were found in the room adjoining Jiah's bedroom where she was found dead, Kantharia said the blood sample did not match either with Jiah or accused Suraj.