ED grills CM Soren for 10 hours

Published on Nov 17, 2022 10:13 PM IST

An ED official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said the Jharkhand CM was asked about the activities related to illegal mining in alleged association with his political aide Pankaj Mishra, who was arrested in July in the case.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren addresses a press conference before leaving for the ED office in Ranchi on Thursday. (ANI)
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren addresses a press conference before leaving for the ED office in Ranchi on Thursday. (ANI)
By, Ranchi/new Delhi

The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) Thursday questioned Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren for nearly 10 hours at its zonal office in state capital Ranchi in connection with an ongoing money laundering probe, which the CM termed as a “conspiracy” to destabilise his government.

Soren, who reached the ED office around 11.45 am, came out around 9.40 pm along with his wife Kalpana Soren, who had also arrived at the ED office around 8.50 pm.

Reason for Kalpana’s brief presence at the ED office was not immediately clear. The couple didn’t take questions from the waiting media persons.

Earlier in the day, thousands of workers of Soren’s party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), who had descended on the state capital from across the state in solidarity with their leader, raised slogans against the BJP and central probe agencies.

An ED official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said the Jharkhand CM was asked about the activities related to illegal mining in alleged association with his political aide Pankaj Mishra, who was arrested in July in the case.

ED had also allegedly recovered Soren’s bank documents during raids at Mishra’s premises in Sahebganj on July 8.

“We called the CM to ask him about how Pankaj Mishra was able to carry out large-scale mining and transportation activities in Sahebganj and other areas of the state, about two Jharkhand Police’s AK-47 rifles recovered from another accused Prem Prakash’s home and alleged illegal dealings of other suspects in the case who claimed to have connections in the ruling state government,” the official said.

In its charge sheet against Mishra filed before a Ranchi court in September, ED had said it recovered “a sealed envelope containing a passbook and two cheque books containing two signed cheques, all pertaining to Bank of India account of Hemant Soren”, besides other documents.

The agency has claimed that huge illegal mining activities were taking place in Jharkhand’s Sahebganj district, along with the transportation of such stolen minerals through roads, railways and inland vessels, and the money generated through this illegal activity was moved and controlled by accused persons through “political patronage”.

In its first charge sheet, the ED said it has “identified” proceeds of crime worth over 1,000 crore till now relating to illegal mining in Sahibganj district and its adjoining areas in Jharkhand.

The ED has charged that the illegal mining is controlled by Pankaj Mishra, Prem Prakash and Bacchu Yadav.

Meanwhile, addressing reporters at his residence before leaving for ED office, Soren described the allegations as baseless and part of a larger conspiracy to topple his government. He said more raids would be conducted against his cabinet colleagues and legislators.

“The allegations seem to be impossible. I feel agencies should come to a concrete conclusion only after a detailed probe. I am a chief minister and the manner in which summoning is being done makes it look like we’re people who would flee the country,” the CM said before leaving for ED office.

“Such actions create uncertainty in the state. Our rivals have been conspiring to topple the government ever since we came to power in 2019,” Soren said.

He also released a letter he said he had written to ED, rebutting the quantum of proceeds of crime being claimed by the agency in Sahibganj district.

In his letter, Soren said all the rakes, trucks and barges available in Sahibganj “could not have possibly transported eight crore metric tonnes” of stone actually required to be illegally mined to cause a loss of 1,000 crore to the state exchequer in two years.

Further in the letter, the CM said it appeared that the BJP, the main opposition party in the state, has caused statements to be given by former JMM treasurer Ravi Kejriwal to falsely implicate him in illegal mining.

“Ravi Kejriwal was a member of JMM and the treasurer of the party till he was removed in 2020. Subsequently, an FIR was also filed against him by JMM. Since then, Ravi Kejriwal has become my sworn enemy and I would not be surprised if he has made false allegations against me to settle personal scores,” Soren said in his letter.

The ED charge sheet had also cited Ravi Kejriwal’s statement in which he said that at a meeting once, the CM directed Mishra to directly hand over the funds collected from mining activity to middleman Prem Prakash, who, in turn, would hand over the money to Kolkata-based businessman Amit Aggarwal.

Amit Agrawal, considered close to the JMM leadership, was also arrested by the ED in a separate case of money laundering.

BJP legislature party leader Babulal Marandi said the latter should be answering questions instead of threatening his party. “I have been saying this for long. I repeatedly alerted the government about the illegal mining. He should now answer questions of the agency. If he has not committed any crime, why is he questioning and threatening our party? Only those people who have something to hide resort to such tactics,” said Marandi.

Former minister and Independent legislator Saryu Roy, who defeated former CM Raghubar Das as a BJP rebel in 2019, said the federal agency should also be questioning the latter.

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