After returning from his weeklong trip to the United States of America, beleaguered Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal said he was ready and willing to fully cooperate with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that has booked him and others on corruption, misuse of office, and money laundering charges.
The former Maharashtra deputy chief minister, however, lashed out at investigators for using the threat of arrest as a “pressure tool”.
The ED has filed two FIRs against Chhagan Bhujbal, his son Pankaj, nephew Sameer, and others under provisions of the stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), based on the Mumbai Police’s case against them in connection with Delhi’s Maharashtra Sadan construction scam and the alleged Kalina land grab case.
On February 1, the day Bhujbal left for the US, ED sleuths arrested Sameer saying his custodial interrogation was necessary since he wasn’t “fully cooperating in the investigations”.
Sameer has since been remanded in judicial custody.
On Monday, hours before Bhujbal landed in Mumbai, son Pankaj reached the ED office in South Mumbai to record his statement in the case and was interrogated by the agency.
But just as Pankaj was being questioned, Bhujbal said his family was being “victimised” under a “planned political vendetta”.
The act of self-defence began with a “show of strength” outside the airport where his supporters gathered on his arrival and raised slogans against the BJP government. Ironically, while Mumbai NCP chief Sachin Ahir was among those waiting to welcome Bhujbal on his arrival, other NCP big guns were missing from action.
With his supporters in tow, Bhujbal then left for the NCP office in South Mumbai where he interacted with the media.
Bhujbal supporters crowded the party office and continued to raise slogans. Some even blocked mediapersons from entering the venue for the press meet. Here too, no senior and prominent NCP leader was present.
Bhujbal, however, did not appear shaken by their absence. “Pawar saheb (Sharad Pawar, party chief) has already come out in our support. The party is with me,” he said, when asked.
“I wish to convey that we are ready to fully cooperate with the investigations. But arresting people this way is unfair,” Bhujbal remarked.
Reiterating that he and his family were being targetted out of “political vendetta”, Bhujbal said, “Time will prove that we (Bhujbal, his son, and nephew) are innocent. We have committed no illegalities.”
Bhujbal parried questions regarding the money laundering charge, claiming that he had done nothing wrong in the case of either project. Reiterating the claim that decision for both projects were collectively taken by ministers in the then Congress-NCP government, Bhujbal said, “The administrative approval and final sanction in both cases was provided by a sub-committee headed by the then chief minister. Also, they had passed scrutiny of various government departments.”
In a veiled attack against the BJP-led state government and the investigation, the NCP leader also alleged that government officials and other witnesses in the case were being “pressurised to depose” against him and his family members.
Striking an emotional chord, Bhujbal, whose named had previously cropped up in the multi-crore Telgi scam, said, “Even at that time, I was targetted politically. The CBI chargesheet that came out later in the case did not even refer to me once. The same thing is happening now.”
Attacking BJP’s Kirit Somaiya, who has been pressing for action against the Bhujbals, he said, “A mirage that there had been massive corruption and money laundering has been created to target me.”
“Let there be a fair probe. If we are found guilty, then act against us. But do not target us in this manner,” he said.
Bhujbal also tried to hint that some of his past associates, who had fallen out with him, had been running a smear campaign against him.