ED summons Hemant Soren, Jharkhand crisis builds

Update: 2022-11-03 03:11 GMT
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren. (PTI Photo)

NEW DELHI: The political heat is building up in Jharkhand after the Enforcement
Directorate (ED) summoned chief minister Hemant Soren for questioning in a money-laundering case linked to an alleged illegal mining scam.

Sources from Ranchi said the state police has been asked to make the necessary arrangements for Mr Hemant Soren to appear before the investigating agency in Ranchi at 11 am on Thursday (November 3).

This comes days after the chief minister’s close aide Pankaj Mishra and two others were arrested by the ED. The probe agency is said to have unearthed an illegal mining scam in the state to the tune of Rs 1,000 crores so far.

The ED had carried out massive statewide searches in July and seized unaccounted money from the possession of Pankaj Mishra. Reports suggest that several documents, including cheques signed by Hemant Soren, were also recovered from the residence of Mr Mishra.

Earlier, in May, action was also taken against senior IAS officer Pooja Singhal, her businessman husband and a chartered accountant. After the raids, Ms Singhal, who was the mining secretary, was suspended by the state government.

Talking about the ED notice, chief minister Hemant Soren termed it “a conspiracy” by the opposition BJP to topple his government. He said: “The Opposition has been conspiring to disturb my government. They are doing this because a tribal is a chief minister of this state. I have been summoned by a probe agency, but I am not scared”.

Amid the latest developments, the Opposition BJP said Wednesday that the summons was sent to Mr Soren after the probe agency recovered several documents from his associate Pankaj Mishra, which pointed towards his involvement in the case.

The BJP has also demanded Mr Hemant Soren’s resignation. “The chief minister has been summoned for questioning. He also holds the mining portfolio. I think he should first resign on moral grounds and then appear before the probe agency”, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey said.

“If he satisfies the probe agency then it would be better for him, but if he fails then his condition will be like Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Madhu Koda in Jharkhand”, Mr Dubey added.

Earlier, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) had charged the BJP with trying to create a political crisis in the state by using the Central probe agencies against the chief minister and the state government.

Talking to reporters, JMM leader Vijay Pandey said: “These things have been happening wherever they are not in power. This is their tactic to destabilise the state government in Jharkhand”. There are also reports that the JMM is working out a strategy to tackle the crisis and making efforts to keep its house in order after the summons.

The ED wants to question and record the statement of the chief minister under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Besides Pankaj Mishra, the ED had earlier arrested two others -- local muscleman Bachhu Yadav and Prem Prakash -- in this case.

The ED probe began after the agency raided Mr Mishra and his alleged associates on July 8, covering 19 locations in Sahibganj, Barhait, Rajmahal, Mirza Chauki and Barharwa in Jharkhand.

“The PMLA investigation revealed that Mishra, who enjoys political clout, being the representative of the chief minister, MLA from Barhait, Sahibganj, Jharkhand  controls the illegal mining businesses as well as inland ferry services in Sahibganj and its adjoining areas through his accomplices. He exercises considerable control over the mining of stone chips and boulders as well as installation and operations of several crushers, set up across various mining sites in Sahibganj,” the ED had alleged after filing a chargesheet in the case before a special court in Ranchi.

Forty-seven search operations have been conducted and cash worth Rs 5.34 crores has been seized, bank balances worth Rs 13.32 crores have been frozen, an inland water vessel worth Rs 30 crores has been seized apart from five stone crushers, two trucks and two AK-47 assault rifles (these weapons were later claimed by the Jharkhand police as its own) till now, the ED said.

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