NEARLY SEVEN months after he resigned as Maharashtra Home Minister, and following 12 hours of questioning by the Enforcement Directorate that culminated in his arrest, NCP leader Anil Deshmukh was sent by a holiday court in Mumbai to ED custody for interrogation till November 6 in connection with a money laundering case.
Deshmukh, who appeared before the ED on Monday in response to summons, was arrested after midnight with the Central agency accusing him of being the “prime beneficiary of the proceeds of crime” with regard to bribes allegedly collected from bar owners in Mumbai.
The arrest triggered a heated response from the state’s ruling coalition partners, NCP, Shiva Sena and Congress, with their leaders targeting the Central Government and describing the move as “politically motivated” and “unfortunate”.
However, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who were together in Baramati to inaugurate an agricultural research institute, did not speak on the issue.
The ED’s case against Deshmukh is based on an FIR filed by the CBI on April 21 following a preliminary enquiry into allegations of corruption and bribery levelled against him in a letter sent by the then Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh to the Chief Minister. Deshmukh had resigned as Home Minister on April 5, hours after the Bombay High Court directed the CBI to carry out the enquiry.
According to ED, Deshmukh “received illegal gratification of approximately Rs 4.7 crore in cash from various orchestra bar owners” between December 2020 and February 2021, when he was Home Minister, through assistant inspector Sachin Waze. Waze was dismissed from service this year following his arrest in connection with the terror scare outside Mukesh Ambani’s house.
On Tuesday, the ED claimed in court that Deshmukh was directly involved in the offence of money laundering. Apart from relying on the statement of co-accused Waze, the ED said it had recorded the statements of two more police officers.
Deshmukh’s counsel argued that those who have levelled the accusations against him are embroiled in multiple criminal offences and cannot be relied on. Waze, incidentally, was arrested this week in a separate extortion case by Mumbai Police.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and Special Public Prosecutor Hiten Venegaokar told the court that Deshmukh had allegedly laundered the bribe money with the help of Delhi-based paper companies while “attempting to colour it as donation” to his education trust, Shri Sai Shikshan Sanstha.
The ED said that Deshmukh’s son, Hrishikesh, allegedly contacted two men — Surendra and Virendra Jain — who gave donations to the trust in lieu of cash transferred to them “through hawala”.
“The trust is formed, managed & controlled by Anil Deshmukh and his family members and (they) laundered the bribe money with the help of said Delhi-based paper companies,” the ED’s remand application said.
The ED claimed that their probe initially revealed 13 companies to be linked to the case and directly controlled by family members of Deshmukh. It said that the probe later found 14 more companies allegedly controlled by the family or associates. These 27 companies were utilised for the purpose of “infusion of ill-gotten money” of Deshmukh, the ED alleged.
The ED claimed that the nature of the money-laundering was revealed through analysis of bank account statements of these companies and individuals linked to them. Money was allegedly “flowing” from companies to firms that were directly linked to Deshmukh’s family, it said.
The ED claimed that some of these companies did not have any business but were only being used for “rotation of funds”.
In its chargesheet filed against others named in the case, including Deshmukh’s private secretary and his personal assistant, the ED had included statements of directors of these companies, a chartered accountant, a business associates and a “dummy’ director”, claiming that these revealed how the companies were created and used for laundering money.
Deshmukh’s defence counsel, Vikram Chaudhari and Aniket Nikam, told the court that the ED had told the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court that he was “at worse, a suspect” and not an accused. “What has transpired that you changed his status from suspect to accused? He was exercising his Constitutional remedies by approaching courts and was not absconding. He himself went before the ED but he was arrested despite the claim that he was not an accused,” Chaudhari said.
The ED had in September filed a chargesheet against 14 persons, including Waze and two of Deshmukh’s staffers who were arrested in June. The ED had not taken Waze’s custody but interrogated him in jail where he’s lodged as an accused in the terror scare case. Deshmukh’s is the third arrest in the case.
On Tuesday, NCP leader and State Minister Nawab Malik said: “The entire action is politically motivated. It is aimed at scaring leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi.” He also said the Central Government should “come clean and check the whereabouts” of Param Bir Singh.
The Shiv Sena alleged that the Central Government was targeting MVA leaders and was instrumental in “allowing Param Bir Singh to disappear”.
“Deshmukh’s arrest is unfortunate and against the principle of justice. The man who has made the allegations against him has run away or should I say made to run away. An officer of his rank can leave the country only with the active connivance of Central agencies. He has disappeared with the help of Central agencies,” Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.
Raut alleged that Deshmukh’s arrest was part of “a larger conspiracy by the BJP, which is still shaken by its loss” in Maharashtra, to target MVA leaders and destabilise the state government.
The Congress described the action as part of “BJP’s politics of vendetta”. “Deshmukh’s arrest is unfortunate. Param Bir Singh, who made the allegations, is yet to be arrested. But Anil Deshmukh, who is cooperating with agencies, is arrested. This is vindictive politics,’’ said Atul Londhe, chief spokesperson of MPCC.