The enforcement directorate (ED) escalated its disproportionate assets probe against Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh on Wednesday, suggesting he and aide Anand Chouhan were involved in “a textbook case of money laundering”.
The ED tightened its case against the Congress veteran on a day the Delhi high court directed him to cooperate with the central bureau of investigation, the second agency probing the alleged laundering of unaccounted wealth worth Rs 6 crore.
But Justice Pratibha Rani told the agency that it cannot arrest Singh or his wife, Pratibha, without the court’s consent. The Singh couple had told the court that they were willing to cooperate if they were not arrested during investigation.
Sources in the ED said the findings against Singh will be part of the agency’s chargesheet to be submitted in court.
Singh and insurance agent Chouhan allegedly tried to “camouflage” the money as proceeds of agricultural income from the chief minister’s 105-bigha apple orchard, named Shrikhand, in Himachal Pradesh. The money was used to purchase 19 insurance policies from Chauhan in the names of Singh, his wife, and their children.
The chief minister denied any wrongdoing. “Witch-hunt shall not persist. I have full faith in the judiciary. I will continue to serve people of the country,” one of his political aides quoted him as saying.
The ED’s case was registered last November on the basis of the CBI’s disproportionate assets case against them. The CBI’s first information report accused Singh of amassing wealth beyond his known sources of income during his stint as Union steel minister in the Congress-led UPA government of 2009-2014.
The agency recently moved to attach assets worth around Rs 8 crore that Singh and family own.
A high court bench refused to halt the ED’s provisional attachment of property belonging to the chief minister’s son Vikramaditya Singh and daughter Aparajita Kumari.
The ED’s findings allege the 2008 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Singh and Chouhan for managing the sale proceeds of the orchard was “fabricated”. The MoU was for the maintenance of the orchard for 2% commission on the sale proceeds.
“Till now, the accused have not provided the original copy of the MoU and given a photo copy with cut-marks, which raised questions about its authenticity,” a source said
Singh’s aides said the allegations were fabricated and baseless. “These are propagated by the BJP for political reasons,” one of them said.
The chief minister has been crying political vendetta since the case surfaced.
His counsel in the high court, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, said as much. Speaking on behalf of Singh, he told the court: “I have been an MLA for 55 years, never lost an election. I have three palaces with me, besides 2,000 acres of forest land. However, I have been prosecuted for just Rs 6 crore.”
On October 1, 2015, the Himachal high court passed an interim order restraining the CBI from arresting, interrogating or filing a charge sheet against Singh. Later in November, the Supreme Court transferred the case against to Delhi high court “to protect the judiciary from embarrassment”.