On November 4, Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami was arrested by the Raigad police in a two-year-old abetment to suicide case. Goswami was arrested with two others, Firoze Shaikh and Nitesh Sarda, and has been remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.
What is this abetment case? Why was it reopened over a year after it was , and why was Goswami arrested only now?
The deaths and the FIR
On May 5, 2018, architect Anvay Naik and his mother, Kumud Naik, were found dead in their farmhouse in Kavir village in Alibaug in Maharashtra’s Raigad district. They had gone to the farmhouse on May 4 from their home in Mumbai. The farmhouse caretaker found them and called the police.
Anvay was, according to media reports at the time, heavily in debt.
A suicide note was recovered from the spot, written in English.
The note said that Anvay and Kumud were both directors of Concorde Designs Pvt Ltd.
“We are committing suicide due to following...Our...money is stuck and following owners of respected companies are not paying out legitimate dues:
(1) Mr Arnab Goswami - ARG Outlier of Republic TV. Not paid Rs 83 lakh for Bombay Dyeing studio project.
(2) Feroz Sheikh - Icastx/Skimedia not paid our Rs 400 lakh in Laxmi 3rd and 4th Idea Square project in Andheri.
(3) Mr Nitesh Sarda - owner of Smartworks - Magarpatta and Baner project (Rs 55 lakh pending).
Kindly collect money from them and hold them responsible for our death and pay to creditors.”
ARG Outlier is the company that runs Republic. Goswami has no connection to Feroz Sheikh and Nitesh Sarda, or the companies they run.
On May 5, the police registered an FIR in the matter at the Alibaug police station, naming Goswami, Sheikh and Sarda. On August 4, 2018, an FIR was also filed into Kumud’s death, and the police concluded that she had been strangled by Anvay who then killed himself.
On May 6, a police team from Alibaug visited Goswami’s office in Mumbai and told him he had been booked for abetment of suicide. Goswami was questioned about his financial transactions with Concorde Design and asked to submit all bank statements, financial transactions, emails, details of work orders, and meetings with Anvay Naik.
Two days later, Republic’s chief financial officer S Sundaram and chief executive officer Vikas Khanchandani went to the Alibaug police station. On May 8, they submitted phone bills and call records of Goswami, Sundaram and Mohit Dhamne, ARG’s finance head, along with details of payments between ARG and Concorde for 2016-17, and visitor records to the Republic office.
On April 16, 2019, the Alibaug police submitted an “A” summary report — meaning the investigation — in the court and closed the case, stating that no evidence could be found against Goswami, Sheikh and Sarda.
Importantly, Anvay’s daughter Adyna Naik (28) and his wife Akshata (50) had not been happy with the investigation from the start. They told Newslaundry they had not even been informed by the police about the closure report in the case.
“On May 5, when we reached their farmhouse, we came to know that my father and grandmother had died by suicide,” Adyna said. “After being told that the police had found a suicide note, we requested that an FIR be filed against the persons whose names were mentioned in the suicide note.”
According to Adyna, police inspector Suresh Warade was “reluctant” to file the FIR.
“He told us that very influential people are involved in it and we can have threats to our lives,” Adyna claimed. “He said we should not pursue the matter and should not talk to the media. But after a lot of requests and insistence, the police finally registered the FIR.”
It should be pointed out that the FIR had been filed on the day the bodies were found, just a few hours later.
Adyna said the family wanted to “pursue the matter at any cost”, since it was her father’s “last wish to take money from those people and pay the creditors”.
“But even after registering the case, instead of investigating those three people, Inspector Warade was more interested in collecting our documents,” she claimed. “We went to the police station more than a dozen times and talked to them on the phone. But every time we spoke to Warade or Anil Paraskar [the Raigad superintendent of police at the time], they would say the investigation is under process, and that they would call us.”
Adyna said she doesn’t remember the exact date, but her mother last spoke to the police between February and April 2020, and was told that the case was still under investigation. Yet, she alleged that the family was never called to give their statements.
And then there were the threatening phone calls, she claimed, with strangers warning that they would “come and assault them” in their home.
“We got threatening calls. Unknown people used to follow us and wait in our building,” she said. “Our cars would be stopped by unknown people. Everyone was pressuring us.”
Adyna and her mother Akshata met Sanjeev Barwe, the former police commissioner of Mumbai, sometime in 2019, she said, to tell him about the threats received by the family.
Family claims it didn’t know about case closure
The closure report in the case was filed in April 2019. Adyna told Newslaundry that the family learned about it only a year later, in May 2020.
“On May 5, 2020, my mother demanding an investigation into the deaths,” she said. “She called out Arnab Goswami and the others. We were being suppressed and threatened, and we decided to use social media to raise our voices since we don’t have a channel like Arnab.”
The video was posted on Twitter, Adyna said, and that’s when someone directed her to a tweet saying that the case had been closed. Newslaundry could not verify what this tweet was.
“Only then we came to know the case had been closed,” she said. “They did not inform us.”
Yet this claim is questionable. Newslaundry had accessed letters exchanged between ARG Outlier, Adyna’s mother Akshata Naik, and Anvay’s company Concorde Designs. On November 6, 2019, a letter from ARG Outlier to Akshata clearly stated that the police had closed the case.
But we’ll return to these letters later.
Later in May 2020, Adyna said, she met with Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh and “demanded justice”. According to the Indian Express, Deshmukh : “Adnya Naik had complained to me that Alibaug Police had not investigated non-payment of dues from Arnab Goswami’s Republic which drove her entrepreneur father and grandma to suicide in May 2018. I’ve ordered a CID re-investigation of the case.”
This is contradicted by Atul Kulkarni, the assistant director general of the Maharashtra CID, who told Newslaundry: “The case never came to us. CID has no role to play in the case.”
On October 12, Akshata Naik submitted a representation to Ashok Dudhe, the current superintendent of the Raigad police, who then informed the Alibaug court about the initiation of the reinvestigation into the case.
“They [the Alibaug police] called us and took my mother’s statement,” she said.
Lapses in investigation, according to Naik family
The representation submitted by Akshata Naik to Ashok Dudhe on October 12 alleged a number of issues in the previous investigation into the deaths of Anvay and Kumud Naik.
For example, Akshata Naik claimed the police did not inform them about Anvay and Kumud’s deaths; they heard about it from acquaintances, she said. The bodies were still at the farmhouse when the family arrived and were only then taken to the Alibaug general hospital, seven hours after the police turned up.
Despite the suicide note, Akshata said, a case of accidental death was filed; she said the accident death report was prepared even before Anvay and Kumud were pronounced dead by the doctor Ajay Ingale.
The postmortem report prepared by Ingale also had its own set of problems, the family said. There were no ligature marks on Anvay’s body but his cause of death was listed as hanging. The report did not state that Kumud died of strangulation. The rope seized from the farmhouse was not sent to a forensic lab. The time of death was not mentioned in the postmortem report, though Ingale later said the time of death was “six to 24 hours before the postmortem”.
Incredibly, Inspector Warade wrote in the police record that Anvay and Kumud died during treatment in the hospital, Akshata said.
According to Akshata, Goswami was issued a notice on May 12 to appear for questioning but instead, Warade went to Mumbai to question him.
This is not entirely correct: the closure report states that a notice was issued to Goswami on May 23, asking him to appear at the Alibaug police station on May 30. Then, on the oral directives of the then superintendent, a police team was sent to Mumbai to question Goswami.
Akshata said that Goswami’s statement was recorded at the office of the joint commissioner of the Mumbai police (law and order) on May 30, 2018.
The relationship between the Naiks and ARG
The business relationship between Concorde Design and ARG Outlier began in December 2016. ARG gave Concorde a contract for civil and interior work in its studio at the Bombay Dyeing Mill compound in Lower Parel.
This is where Republic’s offices are located.
At the outset, it should be said that ARG Outlier does not seem to have defaulted on its contract with Concorde Design.
ARG gave Concorde four work orders in connection with this project, dated December 10 and 26 in 2016, and March 8 and May 26 in 2017. ARG agreed to pay Concorde around Rs 6 crore for the work, with the condition that in case of defects, the remaining payment would be made after the defects were fixed.
Newslaundry accessed all the documents in this regard, including copies of the letter and the closure report.
According to ARG, 90 per cent of the payment — Rs 5.21 crore — was made between December 2016 and October 2017. The remaining would be paid after “defects” were rectified.
Akshata Naik has a different version of events. She said the total value of the work was Rs 6.49 crore — though this contradicts the original contract of around Rs 6 crore. She said after penalty deductions of Rs 70.39 lakh, ARG had to pay Rs 5.74 crore but they only paid Rs 4.33 crore. So, she said, Rs 88.02 lakh is pending.
On April 12, 2019, nearly a year after Anvay and Kumud’s deaths, ARG Outlier sent a letter to Concorde Design. The letter said that after “adjusting payments made to independent contractors”, it would pay Rs 39.01 lakh to Concorde Design. It noted “shortcomings” in the work performed by Concorde.
Payments in the past were remitted to Concorde’s bank account with SBI, the letter added, and asked if there was any change in this regard.
On June 11, 2019, ARG sent another letter to Concorde, copying Akshata and Adyna, saying that two of three letters they had sent had been returned undelivered, nor had they received any response. Without a response in 10 days, the letter said, the amount of Rs 39.01 lakh would be paid to the SBI account.
The letter said: “We would like to reiterate that in terms of the work orders and as discussed in our meetings, a substantial amount of the pending work had to be undertaken independently by contractors appointed by us directly given the shortcomings in the work performed by CDPL [Concorde] an amount of Rs 39,01,721 has been determined as payable to you."
Akshata sent ARG a letter on June 15, 2019, saying that ARG’s dues amounted to Rs 88.02 lakh. The completed project had been handed over to ARG on April 21, 2017, she wrote, and as per the contract, the defect liability period was valid only upto April 20, 2018. ARG had not communicated about defects during that period, she pointed out.
Akshata’s letter also objected to ARG reducing its payable amount from Rs 88.02 lakh to Rs 39.01 lakh.
On November 6, 2019, ARG replied that the work orders between ARG and Concord “do not make any mention of the term ‘defect liability period’”. Instead, the “work orders provided that hat [Concorde] was required to rectify all defective works immediately as instructed by ARG and no extra amount was to be paid for the said works”.
ARG reiterated in the letter that its pending payment was Rs 39.01 lakh only, and that these calculations had been shared with Akshata during a previous meeting.
Akshata’s claim was that the SBI bank account was inoperable since the company’s directors, Anvay and Kumud, were dead, and she and her daughter did not want to become shareholders in the company. ARG responded that this was “neither a situation of ARG’s making nor one that ARG can resolve”.
All the letters exchanged between ARG and Concorde Design were also marked to Dasrath Patil, the police inspector of Alibaug station at the time.
This letter from ARG also clearly indicated that the police had closed the abetment to suicide case.
The case had been closed in April 2019. Newslaundry accessed a copy of this closure report, filed on April 16, 2019, by Suresh Varade.
The report said that Anvay and Kumud had “taken work contracts for interior work at different places” through Concorde Design.
“They were doing interior work at the offices of three accused. Investigation reveals they have not completed the work and have also not completed the work in the stipulated time,” the report said. “Documentary evidence proves that the accused in this case has completed the pending work on their own and also made the payment to the vendor for the completed work.”
Interestingly, the closure report said that Concorde Design has faced financial problems for the last six or seven years — even before ARG Outlier hired it for work in 2016. The company suffered a loss of around Rs 2 crore in 2015, of Rs 5.06 crore in 2016, and of Rs 5.06 crore in 2017.
Given this, the report said Anvay was “mentally tensed”.
“Under the effect of tension, he first strangulated his mother, who was a partner in the company, and then committed suicide,” the report said.
About Goswami and the other two accused, the report said they were “not associated or related with each other”, and there was no evidence that they had “done anything collectively and individually which could have made the life of Anvay Naik unbearable to live or have left no other option for him except committing suicide”.
The 904-page report contained statements from 30 witnesses, as well as details of company documents, emails, the postmortem report, financial transactions, panchnamas, forensic report, and police investigation reports. It also indicated that the work orders between ARG and Concorde were for Rs 5.75 crore, not higher as claimed by Akshata Naik.
Goswami’s statement in the closure report said that he wasn’t aware of mails sent by Anvay Naik, since Republic’s financial business was handled by Republic CFO S Sundaram.
“I was not aware of the April 14, 2018 email of Anvay Naik in which he mentioned that he and his family were in distress and Rs 50 lakh could save his life,” the statement said. “As I was busy with my editorial work, I was not made aware about that mail by my CFO and other officials, therefore I was not aware of what reply was sent to him by my company. But yes, in the past I was made aware that only 10 percent of the amount has been left to pay to [Concorde]."
Goswami stated: "I don't agree that an amount of Rs 74,23,014 had to be paid to [Concorde]. Only after getting the final invoice from the vendor we can know about the final amount..."
Visitor records with the police also indicate that Anvay never met Goswami.
Akshit Lakhani, 34, a building material supplier who used to work with Anvay Naik in his statement told police, "ARG outlier media of Arnab Goswami has paid Rs 4.30 crores to Anvay Naik.The remaining amount of Rs 1.73 crore including the deposit amount of Rs 32.25 lakhs was remaining. Mohit Dhamne, financial head of Republic TV has mailed Naik that the remaining amount will be paid in six installments ( 30 lakhs per installments). Three installments were paid but the remaining three were withheld."
"Naik contacted Sundaram about the remaining amount but he didn't respond. Then Naik messaged Goswami and asked him to repay his pending amount as it's a question of his life and death. Next day Naik was called for a meeting by Sundaram who told him during the meeting that he is indulged with lot work and they can discuss about the remaining payment later. After that meeting NAIK many a times messages,mailed Sundaram and Goswami but they didn't responded.”
However, the closure report mentions on the basis of documentary evidence, that the police had observed that the total work order was of Rs 5.75 crores. ARG Outlier had already paid Rs 5.21 crores to Naik's company and Rs 41 lakhs to vendors. ARG Outlier only had to pay the pending amount of Rs 13.17 lakhs to Concorde, which was just 8% of the total work order amount.
The reopening of the case
On September 8, a breach of privilege motion was moved against Goswami in the Maharashtra state assembly. It was moved by the Shiv Sena, who accused Goswami of maligning the image of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and making humiliating comments about him and others like Sharad Pawar.
At that time, the topic of initiating action against him in the suicide case was raised. Home minister Anil Deshmukh said an “elaborate enquiry” would be held on his assurance.
To arrest Goswami, Deshmukh formed a 40-member special team under Sanjay Mohite, the inspector general of the Konkan range. The police reportedly kept Goswami’s house under surveillance for a few days before his arrest, and the entire operation was carried out in secrecy.