ED takes custody of Saumya Chaurasia, says money used to purchase ‘Benami assets’
The remand application submitted to the court by ED states that kingpin Tiwari was acting as the eyes and ears for Chaurasia
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday arrested and took custody of Saumya Chaurasia, deputy secretary of Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, in a money laundering case linked to alleged extortion of illegal levy from coal and mining transporters.
A special court session judge Ajay Singh Rajput at Raipur granted ED to take custody for four days under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Seeking her custody, ED told the court the money collected through illegal extortion was used by Chaurasia, coal mafia kingpin Suryakant Tiwari, and other senior government functionaries to make ‘election-related expenditure by MLAs and to purchase ‘Benami assets’.
While listing the details of purchased properties by the relatives of Chaurasia, the ED claimed, “Investigation so far reveals that she bought properties in the name of her family members by infusing this illegally earned cash from coal levy extortion.”
It the illegal extortion pertained to “a massive scam in which illegal levy of ₹25 per tonne was being extorted for every tonne of coal transported in Chhattisgarh by the mafia involving senior bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and middlemen”, the ED has said.
The federal agency claimed that Suryakant Tiwari, with the help of state officials, collected an illegal coal levy of ₹500 crore in the past 16 months and part of the ill-gotten money was used for ‘election funding’ and bribing officials. An illegal levy of ₹25 per tonne was charged for transporting coal, ED said.
The remand application submitted to the court by ED states that kingpin Tiwari was acting as the eyes and ears for Chaurasia. To safeguard herself, she was using Tiwari as a ‘layer’ in the middle to receive inputs and issue instructions to district-level officers. This allowed Tiwari to run this extortion, it stated.
“Tiwari is a private contractor and it is clear that strong support of the state executives was essential to extort money from the coal users. Chaurasia, because of her position in the CM office, enjoys power and influence which is far higher than her administrative experience and rank,” the remand application stated.
The ED further submitted that Tiwari was able to pressurize various officers to do illegal acts by using Chaurasia’s name as she is considered a powerful bureaucrat and holds real power and influence.
Faizal Rizvi, Chaurasia’s lawyer in the case claimed that the allegations against his client are fabricated and baseless.
“All allegations of the ED are based on pre-assumptions. There is no concrete evidence against my client,” Rizvi said.
Meanwhile, state chief minister Bhupesh Baghel on Friday called the arrest of his top aide a “political act” and assured that they will “fight against it.”
The central agency, in October, carried out multi-city raids in the state as part of its probe during which ED arrested IAS officer Sameer Vishnoi, coal businessman Sunil Agrawal, his uncle Laxmikant Tiwari, and kingpin Suryakant Tiwari claiming that Tiwari, along with a nexus of government officials, used to collect an illegal levy of ₹25 per tonne of coal which was transported from mines in Chhattisgarh. All four are in jail in judicial custody.