November 11, 2021 11:22:22 pm
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday arrested former Punjab MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira in connection with a money laundering case linked to an alleged drug racket and another one pertaining to fake passport racket. Khaira, 56, was taken into custody by the central agency in Chandigarh under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
As per the ED, which is probing the two cases, there are allegations that the two-time MLA, who joined the ruling Congress in Punjab in June this year, had close association with convicts in the drug smuggling racket — the case was registered in Fazilka in 2015 — and those involved in the fake passport racket, in which the case was registered in 2017.
Khaira has denied any wrongdoing and said he is being targeted by the central agencies as he has been vocal against the Centre’s three new farm laws. Punjab goes to Assembly polls early next year.
A team from the ED office in Delhi, which had been camping in Chandigarh since Wednesday, made the arrest. On Wednesday, it had summoned Khaira to the ED office in Chandigarh for recording his statement. He was questioned on Thursday too before being arrested.
The arrest order (a copy with The Indian Express), signed by Raja Ram Meena, Assistant Director, ED headquarters, New Delhi, read: “I, Raja Ram Meena, authorized in this behalf by the central government, has reason to believe that Sukhpal Singh Khaira of House Number 6, Sector-5 Chandigarh has been guilty of an offence punishable under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (15 of 2003)… in exercise of the powers conferred on me under sub-section (1) of section 19 of PMLA, 2002 (15 of 2003), I hereby arrest the Sukhpal Khaira at 3:10 pm on November 11 and he has been informed of the ground for such arrest”.
Khaira was taken to Sector 16 Civil Hospital for medical check-up and was later presented before a special PMLA court in Mohali where the ED sought his remand.
While coming out of the hospital, Khaira, talking to the reporters, accused the BJP of trying to malign his image. “They are repeating the same old charges of the NDPS case in which I was never named in the FIR. My name doe not appear in the chargesheet nor has any recovery been made from me the case in which the proceedings against me has already been stayed by the Supreme Court,” said Khaira.
He claimed that he was “being implicated in a false case by BJP” as part of political vendetta for his support to the ongoing agitation by farmers against the central agri laws and his statements against the way the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (ULPA) is being used to silence the critics of the central government.
“The allegations of me having fake passports are also baseless as not a single such document has been recovered from me till date. They cannot suppress my voice with such tactics,” said Khaira who had recently resigned from the Vidhan Sabha.
Khaira was elected to the Assembly in 2017 from the Bholath Assembly seat in Kapurthala on an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket. He resigned from the AAP in January 2019 and floated his own outfit — the Punjab Ekta Party. In June this year, he and three other rebel AAP legislators joined the Congress in presence in the presence of then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
In March this year, the ED officials had raided the premises of Khaira in Chandigarh, his native place in village Ramgarh in Kapurthala, and his son-in-law Inderveer Singh Johal in Delhi. The house of his personal assistant Manish Kumar too was raided. There were charges that Khaira used to speak to the drug smugglers involved in the Fazilka case from Kumar’s phone.
In June, the ED had summoned top fashion designers Sabyasachi, Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar for questioning in connection with its probe into the money laundering allegations against Khaira. It was alleged that Khaira had made huge payments to designers at the time of his daughter’s wedding in 2015-16.
The case against Khaira
The case against Khaira pertains to the ED probe in a 2015 Fazilka drugs smuggling instance in which 1,800 gms of heroin, 24 gold biscuits, two weapons, 26 live cartridges and two Pakistani SIM cards were seized by security agencies from a gang of international drug smugglers. The ED had filed the case under criminal sections of the PMLA after studying a Punjab Police FIR.
Khaira’s name was not mentioned in Punjab Police’s chargesheet in the drug case. Khaira, who was then the Leader of Opposition (LoP), was summoned by a Fazilka court on November 30, 2017. He later got relief in the case from the Supreme Court, which stayed the proceedings against him.
In March this year, Khaira moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court for quashing the investigation launched by the ED under the PMLA. In April, Khaira informed the HC that the ED had initiated a probe against him in the 2015 drug case despite Supreme Court having stayed the proceedings against him. The central agency, however, submitted that as money laundering is a standalone offence, it (ED) can continue with the probe despite staying of the criminal proceedings against Khaira by the apex court.
“The drugs were smuggled through the India-Pakistan border and one of the kingpins of the syndicate is in the UK…. Khaira was actively aiding and supporting the gang of international smugglers and enjoying the proceeds of crime,” the agency had alleged.
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