The Bombay high court on Friday directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to arrest Pankaj Bhujbal, NCP leader and son of former minister Chhagan Bhujbal, until May 25 in a money laundering case. Chhagan Bhujbal and his nephew Sameer have already been arrested in the case.
Pankaj moved the high court after the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the non-bailable warrant issued against him by a designated Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court. The court asked him to first approach the high court. The PMLA court had on April 27 issued non-bailable warrants against Pankaj and a few others suspected of money laundering in a case involving the construction of a new Maharashtra Sadan guest house in Delhi and an RTO complex in Andheri.
On Friday, a vacation bench of Justice Ajay Gadkari and Justice MS Karnik granted Pankaj protection from arrest after ED counsel Poornima Kantharia sought time to respond to a petition filed by Pankaj seeking to quash the criminal proceedings and the non-bailable warrant against him. The court also took into consideration the fact that the trial court is scheduled to hear pleas from other suspects on the cancellation of their non-bailable warrants on May 23.
The Enforcement Directorate is investigating Chhagan, Pankaj and Sameer Bhujbal in the case, which concerns a contract that Chhagan Bhujbal – as public works department minister in 2005 – allegedly awarded to a builder without inviting tenders.
According to the ED, from 2006 onwards, Chhagan Bhujbal has laundered money to the tune of Rs 291.71 crore, while Sameer and Pankaj have laundered Rs 359.30 crore each. The agency alleges that Chhagan Bhujbal was the mastermind of the scam, which dates as far back as 1998, when he was deputy chief minister. “He devised the entire methodology and scheme of things to defraud the state government by conceptualising and implementing a scheme where the Maharashtra Sadan and RTO project was awarded to KS Chamankar Enterprises by misusing his official position and authority,” reads the ED charge sheet.
Meanwhile, Justice AS Gadkari on Friday scheduled a plea filed by Chhagan Bhujbal, seeking bail on health grounds, for hearing on May 27.