Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad accused the BJP-led government of a political witch-hunt after taxmen raided 22 locations in New Delhi and nearby areas on Tuesday over property deals worth Rs 1,000 crore allegedly linked to him and his family.
The BJP last week accused Prasad, his parliamentarian-daughter Misa Bharti and his two sons, both Bihar government ministers, of benami deals and asked the Union government to probe one such transaction in the national capital.
In a benami transaction the real beneficiary uses a front, or another person, in whose name the property is purchased and registered. The practice is allegedly quite common among people with illegal cash trying to dodge the taxman.
A team of about 100 income tax officials and policemen conducted the raids at homes and offices of several prominent businessmen and real estate agents in Delhi, Gurgaon and Rewari since morning.
Properties of RJD parliamentarian PC Gupta’s son were searched too.
“People and businessmen connected to the land deal involving Lalu Prasad and his family are being searched. There are allegations of benami deals worth about Rs 1,000 crore and subsequent tax evasion,” a senior tax official said.
Former Bihar chief minister Prasad reacted sharply to the raids, saying he won’t be cowed down “by the BJP’s political vendetta”.
“BJP ko naiye alliance partners mubarak ho. Lalu Prasad jhukney aur darney wala nahin. Jab tak aakhri saans hain fashiwaadi takhto ke saath lartha rahunga,” he tweeted. (Congratulations to BJP on its new alliance partners. Lalu will continue to fight fascist forces till the last breath.)
His remarks on the alliance are viewed as a possibility of severing ties with chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), which was earlier a BJP partner.
The RJD and Congress are part of the Kumar-led grand alliance that defeated the BJP in 2015.
Lalu’s two sons – Tez Pratap and Tejaswi – are ministers in the government.
The RJD clarified later that Prasad was referring to the income tax department and CBI as the BJP’s new partners.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley defended the raids, saying the department and the CBI don’t act unless there is a “substantial basis and a reason to suspect” that there is a tax evasion or a crime has been committed.
Jaitley’s colleague in the ministry, Ravi Shankar Prasad, alleged the benami transactions were a case of “quid pro quo” as they date back to the period when the RJD chief was railway minister.
Several suspect land deals took place in Bihar, he said, and the RJD leader’s official residence was the address of owners of firms allegedly floated by his family members.
“The politics of Lalu Prasad has become politics of loot. Land worth crores of rupees was grabbed for a pittance,” he said.
One such land deal involving Prasad and his family is in Bijwasan in Delhi, the BJP minister alleged.
Bihar’s biggest shopping mall spread over 7.5 lakh square feet is coming up in Patna as part of such dubious transactions, he said.
Prasad is facing a barrage of corruption charges of late. Last week, the Supreme Court revived criminal conspiracy charges against him in one of the five pending cases in the fodder scam, one of the biggest scams in Bihar.
The court ruling is seen as a setback for the regional leader who was disqualified from Parliament and banned from contesting elections after he was convicted of corruption in 2013 in the fodder scam.
(with inputs from HTC and agencies in New Delhi)