An Election Commission team seized Rs 1.8 crore from two vehicles parked at the Pasighat government guest house Tuesday night where Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Deputy CM Chowna Mein and state BJP president Tapir Gao spent the night.
The money was seized from the vehicles on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally in Pasighat Wednesday after Congress workers alerted poll officials in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Siang district.
One of the two vehicles, a Fortuner, is a government vehicle registered to the deputy secretary of the state’s transport department and was allegedly part of the Chief Minister’s convoy. The other car, a Scorpio (AR 09B 3797), is a private vehicle. The state’s two Lok Sabha constituencies and its 60-member Assembly go to polls on April 11.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer (ACEO) of Arunachal Pradesh Kangki Darang told reporters in Itanagar that on Tuesday at around 9.30 pm, the “flying squad” team raided and seized the cash from the two vehicles. He said that the Rs 1crore in the Scorpio has been claimed by BJP’s candidate from the Mebo Assembly seat Danggi Perme’s son Christopher. Sources said the car was registered to his name. Darang also said that Rs 80 lakh recovered from the Fortuner has been claimed by ex-MLA Ralom Borang.
Asked about the Fortuner belonging to the CM’s convoy, Darang said he did not know the details. He added that the case has been handed over to the Income Tax department. According to him, over Rs 5.5 crore has been seized across the state so far.
Sources said that the cash was seized soon after Khandu, Mein and Gao arrived when Congress workers reached the parking lot claiming there was money in the cars and asked for observers to be called to the spot.
In Delhi, the Congress asked why the Election Commission “was sleeping” and why no FIR had been filed in the case. Alleging that BJP was indulging in “cash for votes”, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the “midnight raid on the convoy” of Khandu and the cash found “exposes the brazen corruption and poll violation” in the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Pasighat.
Showing purported videos of the searches at a press conference, Surjewala said that “cash is being counted by police officers in the presence of Election Commission’s Expenditure Officer” Samrita Kaur Gill, and claimed that Deputy Commissioner of Pasighat Kinny Singh can also be “heard in the video” in which “stacks of cash are clearly visible along”.
A senior police officer, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the cash seizure while Kinny Singh declined to comment when contacted.
Borang hs told the EC that “part of this money was borrowed from my relatives and part of it was my own money”. He said that the money was to buy a piece of land in Upper Siang district and the payment for that was to be made on April 7. He has demanded that the money be returned to him.
Tapir Gao, the state BJP chief, told The Indian Express, “Last night the Chief Minister came to Pasighat and a number of cars were parked in the parking lot including vehicles of his convoy. Congress youths saw money in two cars and raised a hullabaloo that CM’s convoy cars are carrying money. But this was private money. What is the link with the party or the CM or me? The owners have taken responsibility and whatever election commission and IT department have to investigate, they will investigate.”
“This is a conspiracy by the Congress because they are not able to digest the huge loss they are about to suffer in the state,” Gao added.
Khandu later told DD News, “I totally deny this charge. This is a practice which the Congress does, not the BJP. I came to know this morning about it. At the moment, the ECI is monitoring the matter and the IT department. I have asked the state party president to look into the matter. In the coming days, we will come to know exactly what happened.”
Bosiram Siram, a former minister and Congress candidate from Pasighat East constituency, said: “We received input that money was being brought in CM’s convoy. His entourage is not checked. Our boys kept vigil outside the Siang Guest House and saw that bags were being unloaded from two cars. They went and intercepted the process and called for election authorities to check. These people have been caught red-handed…we have filed an FIR.”