The Print reports
The 75-year-old — acquitted in all except a money laundering case filed by ED — is out on bail, but is now ‘under probe’ in a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
New Delhi: As ceilings of multiple apartments in Gurugram high-rise Chintels Paradiso came crashing down last week, leaving two dead and several injured, the murky past of Chintels India Ltd chairman Ashok Solomon — which includes several brushes with the law — reared its ugly head.
A 400 kg haul of hashish, money laundering, an 8-year stint in a US prison, cheque forging — Solomon has had a litany of cases to his name, and was even declared a proclaimed offender in 1977 by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police. He has been on the radar of most Indian law enforcement agencies — be it the local police, Crime Branch, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the Enforcement Directorate (ED) — at some point or other.
However, he has been acquitted in every case except one lodged by the ED in 2019, which is still under investigation.
In a case registered on 10 November, 1973, by the Delhi Police Crime Branch, he was discharged because “the files of the case were destroyed”. In another case lodged by the CBI in 1977, he was acquitted by the additional sessions judge — after being convicted by the metropolitan magistrate — for “lack of evidence”. In a 1986 case lodged by Delhi Police under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, he was acquitted because the “witnesses turned hostile”, police sources said, adding that these instances find mention in court records.
According to a 1986 news report by Shekhar Gupta in India Today, Solomon had even served time under the now-repealed Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971, during the Emergency period. In this case too, he secured his release from the Delhi High Court.
The 75-year-old — a teetotaler and vegetarian — is out on bail in a money laundering case lodged by the ED, but is now “under probe” by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, in connection with the partial collapse of Paradiso. The SIT has also sought past details of Solomon from Delhi Police.
ThePrint dug out past records, FIRs, court orders and spoke to investigators to piece together Ashok Solomon’s journey from an alleged drug trafficker to a successful real estate developer.
‘Smooth talker, sharp mind’
Investigators who probed Solomon — a St. Stephen’s College dropout who started his career as a taxi driver — told ThePrint that he was a “smooth talker”, a “well-connected” man with a “sharp mind” who managed to “dodge all troubles, despite his name cropping up in so many cases”.
“We knew about his involvements but there was no evidence. I remember the investigation in the 1986 case, where over 100 kg of hashish was recovered from his car and over 300 kg of drugs were found at his instance. Even in that case, conviction could not be secured as the witnesses did not depose,” said a retired officer of the Delhi Police, who did not wish to be named.
“An aspect that I remember is the canard that Solomon is supposed to have spread about me. He had said that our rivalry dates back to the time when we were together in St. Stephen’s College and that it was just vendetta time for me to have implicated him in a false case. Unfortunately for him, I was totally a product of Saint Aloysius’ in Mangalore and Saint Joseph’s in Bangalore,” said Maxwell Pereiera, who was deputy commissioner of police, South Delhi, during his brush with Solomon.
Pereiera added: “It was routine in 1985-86, as it is now, to get inputs on notorious drug dealers, movers and international terrorists on the ‘wanted list’ from Interpol. And the special staff in every district used to work on such inputs to develop intelligence to its fruition. My own special staff, when I was DCP South, ably led by Lakhminder Brar, had a reputation then of busting this and other drug hauls (… among other sensational cases). At that point in time perhaps we were the highest awardees in the country for the drug seizures we effected.”
However, senior advocate Ramesh Gupta, who had represented Solomon in the 1986 case, told ThePrint that Soloman was acquitted as the entire case was “fabricated” by police.
“Solomon was arrested and the evidence in that case was totally fabricated. That case was fought on merit and that is how it led to an acquittal. What does the police mean when it says that he managed an acquittal? It was proved on record,” he added.
‘Drugs in handloom’— CBI case & USA conviction
Investigators who probed Solomon in the 1980s told ThePrint that he used to “make weed and hashish available to foreigner tourists, from which he earned good money”.
He gradually developed contacts overseas and started a syndicate of drug trafficking, police sources said, adding that with money made off drugs, he appears to have moved to real estate.
In May 1977, an FIR was lodged against Solomon by the CBI under charges of criminal conspiracy and sections of the colonial-era Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. An inspector B.N. Mishra of CBI went to the United States to conduct the investigation.
According to court records, this case was probed by the CBI and the customs department.
According to the prosecution, hashish hidden in a consignment of 42 bales of handloom fabric was detected by sniffer dogs at Los Angeles, USA, and information in this regard was relayed by America’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in India.
It was alleged that in 1976, Solomon, along with his brother Ramesh and others, conspired to illegally export hashish out of India to the USA.
According to the prosecution, to execute the conspiracy, a portion of an apartment at Delhi’s Tolstoy Marg was hired, and invoice forms and letter heads were printed in the name of a fictitious firm which was floated for the illegal export of hashish. A building in South Extension was also hired to pack the hashish.
The consignment was then shipped to the USA by Japan Airlines flights, but was detected at the Los Angeles International Airport, case files show.
Solomon was convicted and sentenced by a US court on 20 May, 1977, for possessing and importing hashish.
According to a court document accessed by ThePrint, the drugs had been imported from India through Los Angeles, California, and shipped as domestic air freight to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At that time, Solomon was allegedly traveling on a forged passport under the name ‘Dcy Dass’. According to the court document, Solomon pleaded guilty and was convicted to 10 years’ imprisonment. During his stay in the US prison, he even acquired a degree, a police source said. He was repatriated to India in 1983. A USD 5,30,000 fine and time ban of entry to the US was also imposed on him.
However, during trial in connection with the case lodged by the CBI back in India, Solomon maintained he did not know any of the other accused in this case as he had been living in Canada since 1972. Although he was convicted in the CBI case by the Delhi metropolitan magistrate in 1992, he was acquitted in the same case by an additional sessions judge and special judge (NDPS) in 2013 on grounds that the “prosecution has failed to establish that Ashok Solomon was the ‘kingpin’ of the conspiracy or had any ‘nexus’ with conspiracy of Indian part”.
In a nutshell, he was convicted for import of hashish in the US, but acquitted in India for its export.
“It was a complex case. The prosecution could not convince the court of the offence here in India. A big role was of Solomon, who was very convincing,” a former police officer told ThePrint.
However, Ramesh Gupta, who was Solomon’s lawyer in the case, said there was “no evidence of Solomon having exported any contraband, there was no recovery, and hence it ended up in acquittal.”
“There was not even an iota of evidence against the involvement of Solomon in the CBI case, and that is the reason he was discharged,” he added.
The court had also noted in its order, a copy of which is with ThePrint, that Solomon was “indisputably not present in India at the relevant time at the time or before the alleged offence, which took place in India”.