In a major breakthrough in curbing illegal smuggling of red sandalwood and teak wood in the state, the Chakan police arrested the alleged kingpin, identified as Dipak Zare, in Navi Mumbai on Tuesday night.
The police claimed Zare was a henchman for international red sandalwood and teak wood supplier Ajit Satam. Deputy superintendent of police (Khed division) Bharat Patil told dna, “Zare is the kingpin in the case. He was absconding for four months. We were on his tracks and finally with the help of the Navi Mumbai police, we arrested him in Navi Mumbai on Tuesday night.”
“As soon as he came out of the Nashik jail, Zare started operating with his old contacts. He took on lease two godowns at Vaki Budruk village near Chakan by submitting fake documents,” added Patil.
The police claimed Zare’s role surfaced during interrogation of his aide Dipak Naidu, who was arrested by Chakan police three months ago.
“Naidus told us Zare had hired three gangs to bring in red sandalwood and teak wood. They used to transport it by road at night to JNPT Port,” said Patil.
The smugglers appointed a team for receiving red sandalwood and teak wood from across the state border. They dispatched their containers to godowns in Nashik, Pune and Kolhapur districts. From there, they supplied the contraband to JNPT Port. Deputy superintendent of police (Khed division) BR Patil told dna, “The smugglers bought fake SIM cards and mobile phones and destroyed them once the operation was over. As a result, it is difficult for investigating agencies to establish further links.”
Who is Ajit Satam?
A senior police officer of Pune rural police told dna, “Satam started his career as custom house agent and came in contact with a local agent of a smuggling syndicate. He learned the ropes of smuggling and started working for smugglers in Gujarat. He spread his network in various states and formed a 15-member syndicate for smuggling sandalwood abroad.”
The officer added, “In 2008, after custom officers arrested Ajit More in Mumbai, Satam was arrested at his residence at Shivaji Park. Satam’s arrest led to the arrest of a senior forest officer from Andhra Pradesh and an official, Aman Sharma in connection with smuggling.”
Zare’s arrest will throw light on tainted cops’ role
The arrest of kingpin Dipak Zare would help the departmental inquiry against a senior police inspector and four constables for allegedly accepting Rs15 lakh to hush up a case of red sandalwood smuggling, the top brass of the Pune rural police said on Thursday. The cops’ role in the case would now be clear, they said, adding that any policeman whose link with the smugglers is”confirmed” would not be spared.
Superintendent of police (Pune rural) Manojkumar Lohia, when asked about the departmental inquiry, said, “Our departmental inquiry is going on. We will not spare anyone once we confirm their roles. The arrest of Dipak Zare is a big achievement for us. Zare, with the help of Dipak Naidu, used to run the racket in the state. Zare will reveal the role of the inspector and the constables.”
The police have recorded Zare’s statement. A senior police officer attached to Pune rural police, on condition of anonymity, told dna, “Zare said he and his aide Dipak Naidu made a deal with the inspector and four constables to hush up the matter for Rs65 lakh. The policemen released the containers after receiving Rs15 lakh from one of the suspects. The inspector detained Naidu in Lonavla and was to release him after getting Rs50 lakh.”
Naidu was released the next day after he promised to return with the remaining amount.
According to the source, the inspector and four constables had got a tip-off that three containers loaded with red sandalwood and teak wood were going to Mumbai. They laid a trap at Lonavla and demanded Rs1 crore hush up the matter.
The officer added, “Meanwhile, the police team including senior police inspector Sushil Kadam of Chakan police station and deputy superintendent of police Bharat Patil got a tip-off from their informer that a red sandalwood and teak wood was smuggled to Waki Budruk village.
Chakan police raided two godowns in the village and seized red sandalwood and teak wood weighing over 16 tonnes and worth Rs4 crore on January 25. They arrested four suspects, including Naidu, who had given the godown out on lease. Thus, the suspect who was supposed to come with the money did not turn up.” The senior police inspector and his constables called up the suspect and demanded the remaining sum. They were not aware that the Chakan raids had links with the suspect who was supposed to pay them Rs50 lakh. “We have obtained the call details of the inspector and his constables. It clearly showed their connection with the suspect,” the police officer told dna.
Red sanders or red sandalwood (Pterocarpus Santalinus) is a rare wood found only in India. It grows in Seshachalam hill ranges in Kadapa, Chittoor and Nellore districts on the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border. It is an endangered species protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora list, whose export and import was banned in 1994.
Pune rural police said one tonne (1,000 kg) of red sanders is worth Rs25 lakh in the international market. Apart from top quality furniture, the wood is used for medicinal purposes and as a coolant in atomic power stations. Its extract is used to make sex pills similar to Viagra by the Chinese.