‘Where is Hemant Soren’ row as ED visits Jharkhand CM's Delhi home | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

‘Where is Hemant Soren’ row as ED visits Jharkhand CM's Delhi home

By, New Delhi
Jan 30, 2024 05:21 AM IST

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren was not at home when Enforcement Directorate officials arrived at his Delhi residence for questioning.

A political row erupted over the whereabouts of Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren on Monday as Enforcement Directorate (ED) sleuths swooped in at his Delhi residence early in the morning, only to find that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader was not at home.

Police personnel and ED officials outside Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s house in New Delhi on Monday. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)
Police personnel and ED officials outside Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s house in New Delhi on Monday. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

While people close to the CM said he was “around” Delhi for legal consultation, and stressed that there was no need for ED to come “looking” for him since he had already conveyed to the federal agency that he was available to appear before them at 1pm on Wednesday, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attempted to brand the CM as an “absconder”.

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“What was the hurry of the ED officials that they couldn’t wait two days for questioning... is this not an insult to the chief minister and the 3.5 crore people of the state?” said the JMM in a statement late on Wednesday.

But the BJP hit back.

“Due to fear of ED, chief minister Hemant Soren has absconded from the CM’s residence in Delhi and gone underground for the last 18 hours... who is the leader of the state in case of the CM absconding? This constitutional question is important,” said state BJP chief Babulal Marandi on X.

READ | ED claims Hemant Soren 'missing', Jharkhand CM's family alleges 'false narrative'

The central agency’s Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) probe against Soren pertains to an alleged land scam linked to the ownership of a parcel of land measuring 7.16 acres in the Bajra area of Ranchi. It has been alleged that the land parcel was acquired through proceeds of crime involving the illegal sale of army land. Soren has dismissed the case as politically motivated and said that the details of his assets are already public.

The drama began around 7am on Monday when the agency’s team reached Soren’s residence at Shanti Niketan and even sent a team to the airport, although agency officials didn’t describe the purpose of the visit other than “search”. Neither team could locate Soren.

ED officials said on the condition of anonymity that they reached the CM’s residence because of some fresh information in the probe. Delhi Police officials were seen outside the house while the ED team carried out its search operation.

The ED team reached Soren’s Delhi house at around 7.30am, and was stationed there till at least 10pm. Officials said that the team has also seized some documents. Separately, the agency has stationed a team at the Delhi airport, the officials said.

READ | ED team camps at Hemant Soren's Delhi house, BJP claims Jharkhand CM ‘absconding’

The 48-year-old leader had conveyed to ED’s Ranchi zone assistant director on Sunday that he will appear before the probe team at his residence at 1pm on January 31. The federal agency had, on Saturday, asked him to confirm his appearance either on January 29 or January 31 for further questioning in the money laundering probe.

Terming ED’s insistence to record his further statement — he was last questioned in Ranchi on January 20 after skipping summons seven times — as “malicious” and a “political agenda” to disrupt the functioning of state government and preventing him from discharging official duties, Soren wrote in the letter sent to ED on January 28. “The issuance of summon to the undersigned is whole vexatious and in colourable exercise of powers given by the statute,” he said.

“Without prejudice to the undersigned’s rights all of which are expressly reserved, undersigned shall record his statement on January 31, 2024, at 1pm at his residence,” he added in his letter.

People in his office confirmed that Soren had come to Delhi for consultation with his legal team. JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said in a press conference in Ranchi that “the CM has gone to Delhi for personal work”, and he will return soon.

“He has been called on January 31. We are ready for January 31. Who is creating all the confusion then? The way the political situation is being presented is against democratic values,” he said.

The JMM asked if ED was being used to destablise the government in the state, and alleged that central agencies had been reduced to political puppets.

Marandi, however, called the situation a “constitutional crisis”.

“According to media sources, late at night Hemant ji, wearing slippers and covering his face with a sheet, ran away from his Delhi residence on foot. Ajay Singh, the security personnel of special branch who went with him to Delhi, is also missing,” Marandi said on X. “There cannot be any other example of such gross negligence regarding the security of the chief minister,” the former CM said. If there is truth in this news, then it is a situation of “constitutional crisis” for Jharkhand, Marandi said.

“A big advice to those who are doing wrong on the instructions of Chief Minister Hemant Soren ji, the Chief Minister is proving himself to be a fugitive, he is running away from facing the investigating agency, the man is facing insults in the country and abroad all day long. Or what will protect the people of the state?” BJP MP Nishikant Dubey said.

The agency has so far arrested 14 people in the case, including 2011-batch IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan, who served as the director of the state’s social welfare department, deputy commissioner of Ranchi, Bhanu Pratap Prasad, and businessmen Amit Agrawal and Bishnu Agrawal who own shopping malls in Ranchi.

Soren was questioned for almost sevenhours on January 20, after skipping summons since August last year.

The CM said in his letter on Sunday that during the previous questions, the ED officer asked 17-18 questions from him to which he “duly replied”.

“Most of your questions related to purported inaccuracies in the affidavits filed by me with the Election Commission and 3-4 questions related to a plot of land at Bargai which you wrongfully alleged was owned and possessed by me. The land at Bargai is ‘Bhumihari land’ which cannot be sold or alienated in any manner whatsoever and the said land is owned and possessed by the Pahan family for over five decades,” Soren write in the letter.

Soren is also battling charges of illegally acquiring a mine, an allegation that had put his government under a disqualification cloud last year.

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    Neeraj Chauhan, senior associate editor with the National Political Bureau of Hindustan Times, writes on security, terrorism, corruption, laundering, black money, narcotics, and related policy matters while covering MHA, ED, CBI, NIA, IB, CVC, NHRC, CAG, Income Tax department, etc.

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