Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren arrived at the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in Ranchi on Thursday, for questioning in an ongoing money laundering case linked to alleged illegal mining in the state. Soren will be questioned and his statement will be recorded under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Before leaving for the ED office, Soren addressed the media and reiterated that the allegations against him are baseless and claimed that he was a victim of a conspiracy by the opposition.
“I am a chief minister. I hold a constitutional post. But the way I am being summoned it feels like I will be fleeing the country. In fact, I don’t think apart from businessmen, any political leaders have fled the country…I am shocked that how can such a huge allegation can be brought against a chief minister so lightly," he said.
The agency has said it has “identified" proceeds of crime relating to illegal mining in the state to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore till now.
“If we calculate the yearly revenue from mines and minerals, it would not touch Rs 1000 crore. I am going to the ED office and want to see how they arrived at that figure," the Chief Minister told reporters.
“The agency should level allegations only after a detailed investigation into the matter," he added.
Soren, 47, had earlier asked the federal probe agency to advance the date of appearance to November 16, to which ED did not agree.
Meanwhile, security has been beefed up around the ED office to avoid any untoward incident.
What We Know Of The Case So Far
▶️The agency has arrested Soren’s political aide Pankaj Mishra and two others - local muscleman Bachhu Yadav and Prem Prakash - in this case.
▶️ED has said it has “identified" proceeds of crime relating to illegal mining in the state to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore till now.
▶️After the first summons was issued, Soren had dared the agency to arrest him. “The ED has summoned me following a conspiracy. Come and arrest me if I have committed a crime instead of sending summonses for questioning…I am neither afraid nor worried. Rather I am emerging stronger. If people of Jharkhand wish, opponents will not find a place to hide," he had said.
▶️The ED probe began after the agency raided Mishra and his alleged associates on July 8, covering 19 locations in Sahibganj, Barhait, Rajmahal, Mirza Chauki and Barharwa in Jharkhand in the case linked to alleged instances of illegal mining and extortion.
▶️According to ED, the PMLA investigation revealed that Mishra, “who enjoys political clout, being the representative of the chief minister, MLA from Barhait, Sahibganj, Jharkhand controls the illegal mining businesses as well as inland ferry services in Sahibganj and its adjoining areas through his accomplices."
▶️“He exercises considerable control over the mining of stone chips and boulders as well as installation and operations of several crushers, set up across various mining sites in Sahibganj," the ED had alleged after filing a charge sheet in the case before a special court in Ranchi.
▶️In the charge sheet, the ED stated that it recovered “a sealed envelope containing a passbook and two cheque books containing two signed cheques, all pertaining to A/c…in the name of Shri Hemant Soren held with Bank of India, Sahibganj".
▶️Among other items seized by the ED include “one yellow color file marked as April 2019 to June 2022 having all bank details of Hemant Soren" and his family members, the agency said in the charge sheet.
▶️Forty-seven search operations have been conducted and cash worth Rs 5.34 crore has been seized, bank balances worth Rs 13.32 crore have been frozen, an inland water vessel worth Rs 30 crore has been seized apart from five stone crushers, two trucks and two AK 47 assault rifles (these weapons were later claimed by Jharkhand police as its own) till now, the ED said.
▶️Some banking documents and cheques that purportedly bore the name of the chief minister were also recovered from the searched premises, officials had said.
▶️The action was initiated after the ED filed a case under the PMLA against Mishra and others in March, alleging that the former “illegally grabbed or amassed huge assets in his favour".
▶️It took cognisance of a state police FIR filed against Mishra at Barharwa police station in Sahibganj district and some other police complaints filed in the illegal mining trade instances under various sections of the Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act, among others.
▶️A second instance where cash linked to alleged illegal mining in the state was unearthed pertains to the ED action against suspended Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Pooja Singhal in May.
▶️Apart from the 2000-batch IAS officer, her businessman husband, a chartered accountant linked to the couple and others were raided by the ED as part of the money laundering probe linked to a case of alleged corruption in the MGNREGA scheme.
▶️Singhal, who was holding the charge of Jharkhand mining secretary, was suspended by the state government following her arrest by the ED.
▶️Suman Kumar, a chartered accountant linked to Singhal and her husband, was also arrested by the agency and cash amounting to Rs 19.76 crore was seized by it.
On Wednesday, in a show of solidarity, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) legislators in Jharkhand met Chief Minister Hemant Soren, a day before he was due to appear before ED. The JMM leader was initially summoned by the federal probe agency on November 3, but he did not depose citing official engagements. He had then sought a three-week deferment of the summons.
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