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The multi-millionaire jeweller, arrested for allegedly placing a note about hijackers and a bomb in the plane’s lavatory, was planning to start a private air charter company for his girlfriend. Birju Salla, 37, had even decided to name the company Royal Airlines, he told interrogating cops of Ahmedabad’s Detection of Crime Branch. Salla had planted the note in the loo hoping the drama would shut Jet Airways and his girlfriend, who works for the airline’s ground operations at Delhi airport, would move to Mumbai to handle the air charter business.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) J K Bhatt said Salla, who belongs to a respected family of jewellers, was the first to be arrested under the strengthened Anti-Hijacking Act, which came into effect in July this year, replacing a 1982 law that lacked teeth. As per section 4(B) of the Act, “whoever commits such an offence shall be punished with imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life and with fine.” Salla, a frequent flier of Jet Airways, belongs to the airline’s CIP category (Commercially Important Passenger), said police sources.
In July 2016, Salla had complained on a Mumbai-Rajkot flight that he found a cockroach in his breakfast and had lodged a complaint with the airline. Then too, he had done so, hoping his girlfriend would leave the company and shift to Mumbai, Salla said in his statement to cops. Salla was let off then after he assured the airline he would not repeat the offence, an official privy to the probe in the case said.
Genesis of his airline idea
In his statement to the police, Salla said that his Mumbai-based friend Bipin Patel had assigned him the responsibility of arranging two chartered planes for guests coming down for his daughter’s wedding next month. “He was in touch with the Delhi office of a Dubai-based private jet supplier to arrange for chartered planes for the wedding of his friend’s daughter. He had also visited the supplier at their Delhi office. A Rs 1.25 crore deal had also been finalised for hiring the planes,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) J K Bhatt.
According to police sources, it is during the meeting with the supplier that the idea of starting a private jet company dawned on him. Salla, a native of Dedan village in Amreli district, had his business in Surat and was settled in Mumbai for the past many years. His inspiration was Surat-based diamantaires who started an airline connecting Surat and Mumbai in 2014. JCP J K Bhatt further said, “It appears from Salla’s statement that he was planning to start an aviation company.
He wanted to hand over the management of this company to his girlfriend once she moved to Mumbai from Delhi.” Salla lives on the 15thfloor of Shreepati Arcade, a highrise in Mumbai’s Nana Chowk with his 70-year-old father Kishore Salla, mother Minal Salla, 54, and wife Ishika Salla, 34. Early on Monday, he placed the threat note in a business-section toilet of the Mumbai-Delhi flight, which had 115 passengers and seven crew members on board. The anonymous letter, which was discovered by an airhostess, said 12 hijackers were aboard the Boeing aircraft and demanded that it be flown directly to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). It warned that there was a bomb in the cargo hold.
The printed message, which was written in Urdu and English, triggered a security alert at Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi airports. The plane made an emergency landing in Ahmedabad, but investigators eventually concluded the threat was a hoax. Salla was identified as the note’s author after the crew revealed that there were just three business-class passengers on the flight and he was the only one who used the washroom. The reference to POK made investigators suspicious because Pakistanbased terrorists call the area ‘Azad Kashmir’, an official said.
“We have arrested him under the Anti- Hijacking Act sections. This is the first arrest under the Act after it came into force,” JCP Bhatt said. Under the provisions of the Act, an accused could face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment till death and his movable and immovable properties can be confiscated, police said. After formally arresting the jeweller on Tuesday, the city crime branch requested the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take over the probe. “Salla, who is married and has two children, claimed that his girlfriend works with Jet Airways in Delhi.
Since she was not ready to change her job, he came up with this wild idea of putting a threat letter, wishing that it would shut the airline’s operations and his girlfriend would be left with no other option than to come to Mumbai,” Bhatt said, adding, Salla’s female friend will also be questioned. The accused was taken to Mumbai by investigating team led by ACP Rajdeepsinh Zala and brought back on Tuesday on a Jet Airways flight. Three laptops, printer and some pen drives used by Salla have been seized by cops from his Zaveri Bazaar office in Mumbai.
Salla belongs to Parajiya Soni community of goldsmiths. Salla’s father, Kishorebhai, is a noted businessman and owner of a family run company which has its headquarters at Zaveri Bazaar. Salla runs a number of businesses including property and bullion businesses, and even selling khakhras. He is a devotee of Shyam Bapa temple in Amreli and donates Rs 25,000 to the trust every year, said sources. He had also donated an ambulance to the temple trust and this is the only ambulance in Dedan village.