Mumbai's former Police Commissioner missing

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, who is now the Commandant-General of Home Guards in Maharashtra, may have fled India, investigating agencies believe, after he did not appear before the state government-appointed Justice (retired) K.U. Chandiwal Commission of enquiry on Wednesday.

The commission is probing Mr Singh's alleged involvement in a money laundering case.

Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil said last week that neither the state nor the Central government's investigating agencies have any inkling of Mr Singh's whereabouts and are searching for him.

"A lookout circular (LOC) has been issued against him along with the Ministry of Home Affairs (New Delhi), we are also looking out for him," Mr Walse-Patil said.

News agency ANI, citing investigating agencies, reported on Tuesday that Mr Singh may have fled India either before the LOC was issued against him by the state police or using a forged passport.

Notably, the LOC was issued against Mr Singh in July, two months after he went on leave.

A senior officer told ANI that an individual cannot cross the immigration checkpoints at any airport in India if an LOC has been issued against him.

When the person's passport is checked by the immigration system, it gets red-flagged and he is handed over to the concerned authorities.

"The Maharashtra government issued an LOC against Singh just after several FIRs (first information reports) were registered against him," the officer told ANI.

Investigation agencies believe Mr Singh fled India on a forged passport.

"Many people with forged passports get detained but some also manage to pass through because the verification is computer based with less manual interference," the officer said.

The latest development comes after Mr Walse-Patil said last week that "he can't go abroad without government clearance" - reacting to talk that Mr Singh may have escaped to Russia.

Mr Singh is wanted in a probe into a corruption claim he levelled against former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh in April, saying that Mr Deshmukh was involved in an extortion racket where he asked police officers to collect money from bars and restaurant owners.

Mr Singh also named dismissed former Mumbai police officer Sachin Vaze in the case.

Soon after, the Bombay High Court ordered a preliminary enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation leading to Mr Deshmukh's resignation, while Mr Singh proceeded on leave in May.

In June, the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra registered cases of alleged extortion, cheating and forgery and set up a one-man commission to probe the charges against Mr Singh.

After Mr Singh failed to repeatedly honour its summonses, the Justice Chandiwal Commission slapped him with fines three times and issued a bailable warrant against him twice.

The state police's criminal investigation department has failed to find Mr Singh at his known addresses in Mumbai, Chandigarh and Rohtak.

Mr Singh was demoted as Commandant-General (Home Guards) on March 22 after being removed as the Mumbai police commissioner a few days before, following a bomb scare outside the house of Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani.

He had appeared before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on April 7 to record his statement in the case. However, he didn't respond to summons by the NIA thereafter.

He last attended office on May 4 after which he went on leave from the next day, citing health issues.

A state home department officer recently said that the Maharashtra government has commenced the process of suspending Mr Singh, but it wants the case to be fool-proof.

The MVA's ally Congress, last Friday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of "a definite role in giving a safe passage" to Mr Singh.

"Quite clear that saving Singh supports the agenda of the BJP," state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said.

He pointed out how the NIA chargesheet in the Ambani terror threat case clearly mentions that Vaze was reporting to Mr Singh, who paid Rs5 lakh ($9,100) to a cyber expert to create an alibi.

"Still if Singh flees, then it is a failure of the NIA. What was the (BJP) government doing? How often do we find (BJP) government napping when people like (businessmen) Nirav Modi, (Mehul) Choksi, (Vijay) Mallya and Singh elope?" Sawant pointedly asked.

Indo-Asian News Service

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