Soren created parallel evidence to conceal illegal land, claims ED | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Soren created parallel evidence to conceal illegal land, claims ED

ByNeeraj Chauhan
Apr 05, 2024 01:57 AM IST

Soren was issued 10 summons since August 7, 2023 before he was arrested on January 31, 2024 in the alleged land scam case

New Delhi As soon as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued the first summons to Hemant Soren in August last year, the former chief minister started creating “parallel evidence” to conceal his illegal possession of an 8.86-acre parcel of land that was “forcefully” acquired by him and his father Shibu Soren in 2010-11, the agency has claimed in a charge sheet filed last week against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader.

Arrested former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren being bought to civil court at the end of his five days Enforcement Directorate's (ED) remand custody, in Ranchi on Wednesday. (Somnath Sen)
Arrested former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren being bought to civil court at the end of his five days Enforcement Directorate's (ED) remand custody, in Ranchi on Wednesday. (Somnath Sen)

Soren was issued 10 summons since August 7, 2023 before he was arrested on January 31, 2024 in the alleged land scam case. A charge sheet was filed last week naming him, revenue sub-inspector Bhanu Pratap Prasad, and three alleged aides of Soren, Raj Kumar Pahan, Hilariyas Kachhap and Binod Sing, as accused under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). A Ranchi court has taken cognisance of the charge sheet, which HT has reviewed.

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The federal agency also attached the land in question (12 adjacent plots measuring 8.86 acres) estimated to be worth 31 crore by ED.

To be sure, experts have debated if PMLA charges apply in this case since it is a land-grab matter.

“There seems to be fractured understanding of law by ED. Money laundering can only be a sequel to the scheduled or predicate offence or say main crime. First of all, an offence has to be committed then proceeds are to be generated and laundered,” said legal expert and advocate Vijay Aggarwal.

Meanwhile, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, without going into the merits of Hemant Soren case, said: “If the activity of land-grabbing falls into the category of schedule offence, then the money generated from it can be investigated by ED under PMLA to see if the money has been laundered.”

The ED charge sheet, citing the statement of Baijnath Munda, a member of the Munda community whose ancestors owned this land, said that the “said 8.86 acres land has been in possession of Soren since 2010. He (Munda) further stated that Hilariyas Kachhap keeps the land under his watch and does not allow them to enter the land as same has been bounded by CM Sahab.”

According to the charge sheet, Baijnath said that the land was originally owned by his ancestors, and was “forcefully acquired by Shibu Soren and Hemant Soren”. The agency said that Hemant Soren was in “continued possession of this land since 2010-11”, and that Baijnath claimed no police station accepted his complaint.

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The charge sheet alleged that Soren tried to disassociate himself from this property after ED issued the first summons. It flagged an application filed by Soren’s associate, Rajkumar Pahan, in the office of deputy commissioner, Ranchi, to cancel the mutation of earlier occupants done in 1978, enabling Pahan to be a claimant of the property and to distance Soren from it.

The matter was decided in favour of Pahan by a scheduled area regulation (SAR) officer on January 29 this year, the day Soren’s house was searched by ED.

“The whole exercise commencing from filing of application by the accused Pahan on August 16, 2023 to the order of SAR court for the cancellation of earlier Jamabandi (revenue record of ownership) in government [records] was done in a very preferential manner and commenced immediately after the issuance of first summons to Soren by ED. The entire process proves that Soren misused his official position and created parallel evidence in order to frustrate the evidence to camouflage his possession of property,” the charge sheet said. The agency alleged the property was ostensibly restored to its original owners (Pahan family) solely to create a false impression in court that it was not in Soren’s possession.

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These land parcels are “Bhuinhari land” of the Pahans and Mundas, which, under Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, cannot be sold or alienated to anyone.

The financial crimes probe agency has cited several documents recovered during searches, including a file found in the circle office, Baragain on which a sticky note with the words “CM Baragai” was pasted, to allow him to add his name in the raiyats (right to hold land for purpose of cultivating), so that a permanent record can be created in his name.)

The agency has also linked a BMW car, recovered from Soren’s Shanti Niketan residence in Delhi on January 29 to him, saying it was bought by the former CM from the showroom Bird Automotive in the name of Bhagwandas Holdings Pvt. Ltd. The JMM has denied any link with the vehicle.

‘Keeping tabs’

The agency further claimed that Soren was keeping a tab on ED’s probe as several case-related documents, including the statement of Prasad, recorded in April 2023, was found at his Delhi residence.

“The statement of Bhanu Pratap Prasad was part of the relied-upon document of the prosecution complaint (dated June 12, 2023, in the land scam case in Jharkhand). One volume of the documents relied upon in this case, containing the statement of Prasad was seized from the premises under his (Soren’s) possession. This volume also contains the statement of different persons who have been arrested in land scam cases. The seizure of the statement of Prasad from his premises establishes the fact that Soren was aware of the investigation being conducted by this office and also the fact that the co-accused Bhanu Pratap Prasad had disclosed the information about the above stated 8.86 acres property during his custody,” the charge sheet added.

The alleged scam pertains to grabbing of land illegally in Jharkhand by several persons, including Soren, by making fake deeds using manufactured identities and falsifying original land records.

Soren is currently lodged in Birsa Munda prison in Ranchi. After his arrest on January 31, hours after he resigned, Champai Soren was sworn in as the new chief minister of Jharkhand.

JMM spokesperson Manoj Pandey said, “The matter is sub-judice, so it won’t be appropriate to comment on the court procedures. However, the charge sheet are mere allegations. We all know how the non-BJP leaders are being framed across the country by the central agencies. While the law will take its own course, ultimately it is in the people’s court, from where the ultimate verdict would come.”

JMM has claimed in the past that his arrest was malafide. His wife, Kalpana Soren, has stated that a conspiracy was hatched by the Centre to arrest her husband.

State BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo said: “Prima facie it’s clear he was hands in glove with the land mafia for land grabbing. However, we would respond over the charges only after going through the charge-sheet.”

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