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Feb 2, 2003
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Crime
Paying the piper
D-Company suffers yet another jolt as
Sharad Shetty is killed in Dubai

By Dnyanesh Jathar & Quaied Najmi

'Vengeance is mine'. Chhota Rajan may not have said it in so many words but the Mumbai don is out to make rival Dawood Ibrahim and company pay for their mistake of mounting an unsuccessful attempt on his life in Bangkok, three years ago. On January 19, Rajan cut off Dawood's right hand when his button men gunned down Dubai-based Sharad Shetty, who had kept his boss posted about Rajan's movements prior to the Bangkok operation.

Shetty, head of the Rami Group which owns the Regent Palace and Regal hotels in Dubai, was gunned down at the lounge of the India Club, a popular hangout of Indian businessmen. As he walked in around 9 p.m. (10.30 p.m. IST) to attend a dinner, he was confronted by two nattily dressed youth in their mid-30s. Before Shetty, 45, could react, they pumped bullets into his chest and head from point-blank range.

The police were immediately called in but the assailants had by then melted into the darkness outside. Two hours later, Shetty's wife Shashikala, who witnessed the shooting, was escorted home. Shetty's children-daughters Swayam and Shraddha and son Sandeep-were told about the incident only later.

The shootout bore the stamp of the underworld and shocked the expatriate Indian community, especially the businessmen among whom Shetty was popular. It also angered the Dubai Police. The hugely popular Dubai Shopping Festival was underway and the bloodletting could not have come at a worse time. "We will act tough with those who could be a source of trouble," said Major-General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, chief of Dubai Police. "The murder should be an eye-opener and it should encourage us to review our visa and investment policies. We should not allow people with a criminal background to stay amid us."

His concern is not without reason. Dubai desperately wants to avoid the tag of being a playground of criminals from the subcontinent, specially in view of Uncle Sam's war on terror. Meanwhile, India Club, formerly known as India Sports Club, has been accused of accepting members without checking their antecedents. When asked whether the club would review its membership policy, its secretary refused to respond.

It will take a while for Dawood to recover from the loss of Shetty, who hailed from Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. Their friendship goes back a long way. Senior Inspector Pradeep Shinde of the Mumbai Police crime branch said the two met in the late 1970s when Dawood was still making his mark in the underworld. Shetty was then running a modest jewellery shop in Jogeshwari, a communally sensitive pocket of north-western Mumbai. In those days, Dawood was mainly dealing in smuggled gold, and the friendship was mutually beneficial.

"Gold consignments used to be dumped in airport dustbins, to be picked up later by sweepers on Dawood's payroll," said Shinde. "It would then be routed to Shetty." In 1983, the duo was arrested by the customs sleuths for smuggling activities. Rajan, too, was working for Dawood at that time.

When Dawood fled to Dubai in 1984, Shetty followed his master. When the underworld got divided on communal lines following the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, Shetty and Sunil Sawant alias Sautya were the only Hindu gangsters who remained loyal to Dawood. Rajan broke away saying the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence was patronising the D-Company. Dawood never forgot the slight.

In Dubai, Shetty turned to narcotic smuggling since gold business had lost its sheen after India relaxed import rules. He also ran a betting syndicate in the UAE along with Pakistan's Hamid Qasim. Shetty, Anna to his friends, was close to several Indian cricketers and a former Indian captain is said to have slept in his bedroom. He also owned hotels and night clubs in Abu Dhabi, apart from Dubai.

Even as Shetty was building his business empire, Dawood was itching to get even with Rajan. In the early 90s Rajan was invited for a party aboard a yacht for what Dawood planned as Rajan's last supper. Rajan got wind of Dawood's intention and stayed away.

Rajan struck back in 1995 by killing Sautya in a Dubai hotel. Dawood retaliated by shooting Mumbai hotelier Ramnath Payyade, who was said to be close to Rajan. He avenged Payyade's death by gunning down three members of the D-Company.

Dawood then asked Shetty to track Rajan's movements and it helped that a large chunk of the rival gang comprised people from his comm-unity. First he got in touch with Mohan Kotian, who was controlling Rajan's operations in Karnataka. Rajan smelt a rat and sent his Bangkok-based sharpshooter Rohit Verma to deal with him. Kotian was bumped off when he refused to fall in line.

Shetty then turned to his own man, Mumbai-based hotelier Vinod Shetty, for help. Vinod readily agreed to get the details of Rajan's whereabouts. According to the Mumbai Police, Rajan associate Guru Satam helped get the details. Ashok Shetty, whom Rajan trusted, also agreed to knock on the door of the flat in which Rajan stayed in Bangkok to facilitate the entry of the assailants.

In spite of the elaborate planning, the shooters led by Munna Jhingada failed to eliminate Rajan. Rohit Verma and his wife were killed in the shootout while Rajan escaped with severe injuries. That turned out to be a costly mistake. He later escaped from the Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, where he was admitted following the attack.

While recuperating from the near-fatal injuries in an undisclosed destination in Europe, Rajan called up his men in Mumbai and asked them to prepare for a showdown. His first target was Vinod, who was killed in 2001. Next was the turn of Sunil Soans alias Sunil Florist, who helped Vinod track Rajan, and O.P. Singh, whom Rajan suspected of being in touch with Shetty.

Bangalore don Muthappa Rai, who was recently deported from Dubai, apparently arranged the shooters who sprayed bullets on Shetty. Rai had a score to settle because he believed that Shetty was instrumental in getting him arrested in Dubai. Rai also had profits to make. Police believe that Rajan has promised him all help in running the Bangalore underworld.

Mumbai Police claim that the D-Company has considerably weakened with Shetty's death. "It will be the beginning of the end for Dawood," said an officer.

Chhota Rajan will be hoping the same.

With reports from Dubai

Shetty was Dawood's (extreme left) Man Friday till Anees (left) came into picture. Rajan (below) dealt a blow to the D-Company by killing him.

The revenge trail
Munna Jhingada: Led the team of sharpshooters in Bangkok. Now in Karachi.
Vinod Shetty: Mumbai hotelier who spied on Rajan. Killed in Mumbai in 2001.
O.P. Singh: Maintained contacts with Sharad Shetty. Killed last year in Mumbai.
Sunil Soans alias Sunil Florist: Helped Vinod Shetty. Killed last year in Mumbai.
Guru Satam: Helped Vinod track Rajan. Now possibly in Malaysia.
Sharad Shetty: Coordinated intelligence against Rajan. Killed in Dubai on January 19.

 

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