AAP leader Pankaj Gupta gets ED notice in PMLA case, party hits out at BJP
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued summons to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national secretary Pankaj Gupta in connection with alleged foreign funds raised by the party in the run up to 2017 Punjab assembly elections -- a move that the AAP on Monday described as a witch-hunt at the behest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Officers familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the agency came to know about the funds while investigating former Punjab leader of Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who is under investigation for money laundering in at least two cases.
Gupta has been asked to join the ED probe on September 22.
A senior ED officer alleged that Khaira, who is in the Congress now, visited the US in 2016, when he was in the AAP, and raised funds totaling $119,000 from the non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the run-up to Punjab state assembly elections.
ED recovered the documents pertaining to this funding during a raid in March this year, and when he was questioned about it, he disclosed entire fund-raising trip was organized by the AAP, and that he had no knowledge of the funding, the officer added.
“Gupta has been summoned to elicit details about these foreign funds,” said a second officer.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal described the summons as part of the BJP’s “tactics”.
“In Delhi, they tried to defeat us with the I-T department, CBI, Delhi Police – but we won 62 seats. As we grow in Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, Gujarat – we get an ED notice! The people of India want honest politics- these tactics of BJP will never succeed; they will make us stronger”.
AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha said the summons were not based on facts.
“We have just got a two-page notice, which says that Raja Ram Meena, assistant director, has summoned Pankaj Gupta as part of a PMLA investigation on September 22. There is no information about which case this is. ED can give notices under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, Fugitive Economic Offenders Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The notice has been issued under the last one,” Chadha said.
“A series of witch-hunts have been launched against AAP and this started even before the party was formed. In 2012, during the Anna Andolan (the anti-corruption protests), MHA sent notices to leaders but said later in court that there were no irregularities. Different agencies, such as IT Department, CBI, ED and Delhi Police have been unleashed on us between 2013 and now but no one has found any wrongdoing,” he added.
Prior to Gupta, former AAP leader Vishwas Kumar was questioned last month to know more about the funding. He informed ED team that he is no longer associated with the party and the necessary details would be available with the incumbent office bearer, said a second officer.
Khaira, was elected to the state assembly in 2017 from Bholath in Kapurthala district on an AAP ticket. Two years ago, he quit the AAP and formed the Punjab Ekta Party (PEP), which he merged with the Congress in June this year.
“I was officially asked by the AAP high command, (Arvind) Kejriwal himself, to make a tour to the US for a fund-raising for the party. I toured about 18 US cities and funds were collected directly for the AAP. During my questioning recently, the ED asked me about this. I told them that I was sent by the party. The AAP teams there organised the meetings and took funds directly from them (participants). I am aware that the money came back here to them, but not how they sent it,” Khaira said.
ED is probing him in two money laundering cases registered earlier this year – one based on a transborder drugs smuggling network unearthed in Fazilka, Punjab in 2015, and the second pertaining to a fake passport racket in Delhi. The agency even raided Khaira and his son-in-law Inderveer Singh Johal this March.
In the Fazilka drugs case, 1,800 grams of heroin, 24 gold biscuits, two weapons, 26 live cartridges, and two Pakistan SIM cards were seized by Jalalabad police in 2015. Khaira’s name cropped up in the case in 2017. Though he was not named in the Punjab Police charge sheet, a Fazilka court issued summons to him on November 30, 2017. He was Punjab’s leader of opposition and an AAP MLA at that time. The Supreme Court granted him relief by quashing proceedings the following month.
In June, ED examined three fashion designers -- Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi and Ritu Kumar -- in the case against the Punjab legislator as some cash payments were made to them by Khaira.