ED books Deshmukh for money laundering; NCP calls move ‘politically motivated’
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has booked Anil Deshmukh under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in connection with former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh’s allegations that the ex-Maharashtra home minister allegedly ran an extortion racket, officials familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The fresh case against Deshmukh is based on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) First Information Report (FIR) registered against him last month.
The officials said the ED was likely to summon Deshmukh and his personal staff soon in its investigation into the case. Unlike the CBI, ED, the federal anti-money laundering agency, can record statements of any person in a case under PMLA’s Section 50 and it is admissible as evidence in court.
The fresh case has been filed days after the CBI on April 24 said it has established “prima facie evidence” against Deshmukh, a leader of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and booked him for corruption and criminal conspiracy.
The CBI’s case came a month after Singh accused Deshmukh of using the Mumbai Police for extortion from bars, hotels, and restaurants. The CBI is probing Singh’s allegations as well as Deshmukh’s handing over of important cases to the suspended assistant police inspector, Sachin Vaze, and influencing transfers and postings.
In a letter to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in March, Singh alleged Deshmukh asked Vaze to collect ₹100 crore monthly from bars, restaurants, hotels, and other sources in Mumbai. The letter was written after Singh was transferred for allegedly mismanaging the bomb scare outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house in February. The National Investigation Agency has arrested Vaze in connection with the discovery of the explosives-laden car outside the house and businessman Mansukh Hiran’s alleged murder. Hiran was linked to the vehicle.
Also Read | Covid-19: The five elements of the Mumbai model
Four CBI teams on April 24 carried out raids for 12 hours from 6 am at Deshmukh’s residences in Nagpur and Mumbai as well as at his personal assistant Sanjeev Palande’s premises and seized digital devices.
Deshmukh has been named an accused along with “unknown others” in CBI’s FIR registered on April 21 on the completion of a preliminary inquiry. The CBI said the probe found he attempted to obtain undue advantage using his position. In its FIR, a copy of which HT has seen, the CBI has said Deshmukh knew Vaze was probing all key cases in Mumbai.
Singh first approached the Supreme Court seeking a CBI investigation into the alleged extortion racket, but it refused to intervene and asked him to approach the high court. Deshmukh resigned citing moral grounds after the high court asked the CBI in April to conduct the preliminary inquiry within 15 days.
NCP spokesman Nawab Malik, who is a minister in the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government, dismissed the ED’s case as politically motivated. “Whether it is the case registered by ED or allegations levelled by Param Bir Singh, [there is] an attempt to defame the MVA [Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi] government by using power.” Malik accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre of using central agencies CBI, ED for political reasons. “The action by ED is politically motivated as BJP wants to defame the leader [Deshmukh], his party [NCP], and the state government.” Malik reiterated Deshmukh will cooperate with the probe.
Congress leader Sachin Sawant said the action against Deshmukh has been initiated to cover up the Narendra Modi government’s failure in tacking the second Covid-19 wave. “ED filing case against Deshmukh is out of Modi government’s ridiculous mindset and dangerous politics that is detrimental to democracy. It is an attempt to cover up its own failure in handling the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and divert the attention of people from it,” said Sawant, whose party is a constituent of the MVA government. He added the action has been taken on Singh’s “lies”. He added Singh has said the amount was demanded but never paid. “If the CBI and ED think there was a transaction, then why no action is being taken against Singh and Vaze. It is nothing but political persecution started by the Modi government.”
BJP leader Atul Bhatkhalkar hit back and asked the ruling parties why they were scared of the probe if there is no involvement of Deshmukh. “The CBI probe was ordered by the high court, not the BJP or the central government, and action is being taken accordingly. ...Deshmukh has said that he is ready to face the probe as he wants the truth to come to the fore. If it is so, he should face the probe.”