CBI raids Lalu Prasad’s homes in land-for-hotels scam; RJD chief accuses Modi, Shah of targeting him
Raids were carried out at 12 locations in five cities a day after the CBI filed cases against Lalu Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and son and deputy Bihar chief minister Tejashwi.india Updated: Jul 07, 2017 18:55 IST
The CBI searched the homes and properties of Lalu Prasad and his family on Friday as part of investigations into alleged irregularities in leasing out railway hotels when the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief was the rail minister.
The raids were carried out at 12 locations in five cities a day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed cases against Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and son and deputy Bihar chief minister Tejashwi, among others.
The searches are likely to put more pressure on the ruling coalition in Bihar already under strain over differences between chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the RJD over the choice of presidential candidate.
Prasad cried conspiracy, saying he was being targeted from bringing the opposition together against the Modi government.
“No one is aware what the CBI raids are for,” he told media. “Hum mitti mein mil jayenge lekin BJP aur Modi sarkar ko hata ke dum lenge (I will rest only after removing the BJP and Modi government.”
His spokesperson Manoj Jha said “these agencies have become new alliance partners for the BJP and they are using it”.
The CBI was acting on its own but it was time Kumar snapped ties with the RJD, the BJP said.
The simultaneous raids in Bihar’s capital Patna, Delhi, Gurgaon in Haryana, Puri in Odisha, and Ranchi in Jharkhand began at around 7.30am.
Prasad was not home when a CBI team reached his residence at 10, Circular Road in Patna. He was in Ranchi to appear in a fodder scandal case that involves large-scale embezzlement of government funds.
The CBI is examining possible irregularities in the awarding of contracts to private firms to operate railway hotels, including two BNR hotels in Ranchi and Puri, and whether Prasad and his family benefitted from them.
The agency alleges that the Indian Railways under Prasad awarded contracts to run the BNR hotels to a company called Sujata Hotels, which then transferred two acres of prime land in Patna to family members of the RJD chief through an intermediary company called Delight Marketing. The land changed hands at a rate far below the market price.
Sujata Hotels transferred the land the same day Prasad’s railway ministry began leasing out hotels, HT has found.
HT also learnt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office in a late night call on Thursday told Kumar the CBI was about to raid his deputy Tejashwi and Prasad. Government officials said Kumar was informed after the CBI told the PMO that it feared trouble while searching the homes and properties of Prasad and Tejashwi.
The BJP said the raids proved its charge that Prasad and his sons were corrupt. “The (CBI) action being taken is outside the party purview, so I would not like to comment on it... But yes, it is high time Nitish Kumar sever ties with the RJD,” BJP’s Bihar president Nityanand Rai said.
Rai said Bihar “politics” would change after the CBI raids.
Kumar’s JD (U) used to be part of the BJP-led NDA before he walked out in 2013 after Modi was named the prime ministerial candidate.
Kumar joined hands with Prasad and the Congress to win the Bihar election in 2015. But since then, he has backed the Modi government’s demonetisation decision, broken ranks with opposition to support Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA’s pick for presidential polls, and ignored Congress’ call for staying away from the midnight launch of the goods and services tax.
Kumar’s JD(U) is important for the opposition which is trying to come together to take on the BJP in the 2019 election.
A thick web
But CBI action against Prasad will test the effort as the 69-year-old former Bihar chief minister is caught in a web of corruption cases.
He had to step down as a member of Parliament and was barred from electoral politics for at least six years on being found guilty in one of the fodder cases in 2013. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh trial in another fodder case.
Friday’s raids come weeks after the income tax department searched locations in New Delhi and adjoining areas in connection with corruption charges against Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti and her husband Shailesh Kumar, who were also questioned.
Tejashwi and his elder brother Tej Pratap, who is the Bihar health minister, are also battling charges of corruption.