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Money laundering probe: ED summons Hemant Soren today, he says am not afraid

Chief Minister Hemant Soren has been asked to appear before the investigating officer on Thursday for questioning, an ED official said.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has been summoned Thursday by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with its probe into alleged money laundering in cases of illegal mining in the state.

“The CM has been asked to appear before the Investigating Officer in Ranchi on Thursday for questioning. Some facts have been revealed during our investigations against his aide Pankaj Mishra which need to be verified,” an ED official said.

Responding to the summons, Soren, while inaugurating the second phase of Sarkar Aapke Dwar delivery scheme in Sahibganj, said “I do not fear” the ED.

Sources in the CMO said the Chief Minister is supposed to visit Raipur for an Adivasi Nritya Mahotsav Thursday.

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In Sahibganj, Soren targeted the BJP and alleged a nexus: “ED is investigating in Jharkhand at the request of the Opposition here. It is at their request that I have been summoned. But I do not fear… This is being portrayed to show that the ED is very powerful, that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi can be summoned and so can a Chief Minister. It does not matter, we will give a response. And if they think they can tarnish my image before the people, then the story is over. They are under a false impression. When they cannot take me on politically, they are using constitutional bodies.”

He also took a swipe at Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais over his “atom bomb” remark – yet to make public a recommendation by the Election Commission on the action to be taken against Soren over his alleged ownership of a mining lease, Bais, in an interview to Bharat 24-Vision of New India news channel last month, said an  “atom bomb could explode any time in Jharkhand” and that he had asked for “a second opinion” on the issue. However, sources in the Raj Bhavan at Ranchi and the Election Commission in Delhi said they had no information about any such opinion being sought or received.

Soren told the gathering: “Our Governor has been sitting on the atom bomb envelope. He does not open the envelope, but utters about the atom bomb explosion. This is all a nexus, and they are conspiring. The people of this state will give a befitting reply to this.”

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In July this year, the ED had arrested Pankaj Mishra, a close aide of Soren and his MLA representative in the Barhait Assembly constituency. It filed a prosecution complaint (equivalent to a chargesheet) against him and two others in the case.

In September, the agency informed a special court in Ranchi that it had detected illegal mining of stones worth more than Rs 1,000 crore in Sahibganj district and adjoining areas of Jharkhand, all controlled by Mishra.

The ED, in its prosecution complaint, said Mishra even controlled installation of crushers and had a “fixed share in almost all mines” and transportation of material.

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The ED named three persons as accused: Pankaj Mishra, his associate Bacchu Yadav, and Prem Prakash who allegedly laundered the proceeds gained through illegal mining – all three are in judicial custody.

In its complaint, the ED said the accused were party to activities relating to “acquisition, possession, use, concealment, and projection of the proceeds of crime as untainted”.

The ED complaint cited Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s former treasurer Ravi Kejriwal’s statement in which he said that at a meeting once, the “CM” directed Mishra to directly “hand over the funds” coming from stone and sand mining in the Santhal Parganas to Prem Prakash who, in turn, would hand over the money to a businessman.

On July 17, two days before Mishra’s arrest, the JMM, at a press conference, had said that the ED was trying to “harm CM Soren’s image”. The party said the ED should disclose the names of Mishra’s associates and the seizures made.

The ED has so far conducted 47 searches as part of its investigation. In Sahibganj district alone, Rs 5.34 crore was seized and Rs 13.32 crore in a bank frozen. Also seized were an inland vessel MN-Infralink-III and five crushers.

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In its complaint, the ED said that Mishra even tried to influence the then Dumka Commissioner, Chandra Mohan Kashyap, to not investigate the inland vessel incident in which several trucks went down, resulting in loss of life.

According to the prosecution complaint, Kashyap told the ED that the report of the Sahibganj DC was not satisfactory and he had sought clarifications, but Mishra called him one day and said he owned the vessel and “indirectly insisted” not to seek further clarification.

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Explained

The divide deepens

The illegal mining scam, the searches, seizures and submissions in court have dominated headlines in Jharkhand, and deepened the political divide. The JMM and BJP have been trading charges and the Governor’s remarks in an interview have only heightened tensions.

The ED said that during the search of Prem Prakash’s premises, two AK-47 assault rifles, 60 rounds of live ammunition along with “police clothing” were found.

It also recovered, among other documents, “two signed cheques and 31 blank cheques all pertaining to Hemant Soren held with Bank of India” from Mishra.

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According to ED, Anil Jha, an employee of Prem Prakash, in a statement on May 24, said he “used to receive and deliver cash ranging from Rs 10 lakh to 5 crores for Prem Prakash from one location to another… and used to hand them over to Prem Prakash.”

The genesis of the ED’s ECIR – the equivalent of an FIR – was an FIR registered in Barharwa by one Sambhu Nandan Kumar who alleged he was threatened by Mishra on June 22, 2020 for participating in a tender process for the Barharwa toll.

Kumar alleged he was told by Mishra over the phone “not to participate” in the tender process and when he refused, he was attacked by a mob at Mishra’s behest.

According to ED, the main reason was to gain control of six toll plazas which come under the Barharwa Nagar Panchayat on the route connecting the mining sites.

“Control over these tolls would have enabled Mishra and his accomplices to have control and dominance over the area… thereby enabling them to easily monitor the number of vehicles and quantity of the mining proceeds being carried out in those vehicles and would also facilitate collection of levies,” the ED prosecution complaint stated.

First published on: 02-11-2022 at 09:10 IST
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