The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Friday said it has seized Rs 11.88 crore in cash from 37 bank accounts belonging to Pankaj Mishra, a close aide of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, and Mishra’s associates in connection with a case of money laundering linked to alleged illegal mining.
According to the agency, the cash came from illegal mining in multiple places, including Sahebganj, Soren’s constituency.
Cash was also seized from the bank accounts of Dahoo Yadav, an associate of Mishra.
The ED had earlier conducted searches at 19 locations in Jharkhand’s Sahibganj, Barhet, Rajmahal, Mirza Chauki and Barharwa areas, seizing documents and Rs 5.34 crore of “unaccounted cash” on July 7.
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“During this search operation, the ED also seized five stone crushers that were being illegally operated from the site, and also five illegal firearm cartridges. The evidence collected during the course of the investigation, including statements of various persons, digital evidence and documents, revealed that the seized cash/bank balance is derived from illegal mining being rampantly done in the Sahibganj area, including the forest area,” the agency said in a statement.
“A trail of further Rs 100 crore of proceeds of crime generated from illegal mining has also been unearthed,” it said.
The ED action comes at a time Soren faces corruption allegations for allotting a mining lease to himself and a plot to his wife. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has already issued a notice to Soren’s brother and state MLA, Basant Soren, in the mining lease issue.
Basant is an MLA from Dumka constituency.
Earlier, the ECI, which is examining whether Basant’s case could lead to his disqualification as an MLA, had sent a notice to the Chief Minister seeking his stand on the charges against him.
The allegations were first made at a press conference by former state chief minister and BJP leader Raghubar Das, who had also hinted that Mishra was involved in questionable deals.
In May, ED had conducted searches at 36 locations connected with alleged irregularities in the MNREGA scheme.
These locations included the premises of Jharkhand mining secretary Pooja Singhal. The agency also seized Rs 19.76 crore in cash.
“In this case also, evidence collected during the course of investigation including those collected during the searches and statements of various persons revealed that the major chunk of the seized cash was derived from illegal mining and was belonging to senior bureaucrats and politicians,” the ED statement said.
Singhal and Suman Kumar, alleged to be her Chartered Accountant, were arrested in this case and are now in judicial custody. A prosecution complaint has been filed in this case.
In all, the ED said, it has seized Rs 36.58 crore of allegedly illegal proceeds.
According to sources, the case against Mishra originates from a June 2020 complaint made by a toll tax contractor with the Badharwa police station in Sahibganj. The complaint referred to a clash and alleged assault on directions of Mishra and a minister in the Soren government.
It further alleged that the clash was a result of a controversy over a tender for toll collection from vehicles entering Badharwa Nagar panchayat. The complainant alleged that the minister’s brother was also competing for the tender and had tried to scuttle the process by propping a dummy company that bid exorbitantly to bag the contract, only to dishonour the bid later.
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