Jharkhand: ED questions Soren in money laundering case

ED continued to question Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren for more than five hours on Wednesday as part of its investigation into an alleged money laundering case related to land deals.
Jharkhand: ED questions Soren in money laundering case

Ranchi | Amidst hectic political activities, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) continued to question Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren for more than five hours on Wednesday as part of its investigation into an alleged money laundering case related to land deals.

The questioning which started at 1.20 pm is still continuing, an official said.

Soren, 48, who is also the executive president of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was previously questioned on January 20 in connection with the case.

The interrogation, however, remained incomplete on that day when he was grilled for more than seven hours, an official said.

Soren is being questioned as part of an investigation into a "huge racket of illegal change of land ownership by the mafia" in Jharkhand, according to officials from the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses said three tourist buses entered Soren's house on Kanke Road around 5.30 pm amid hectic activities. Soon after that, chief secretary L Khiangte and DGP Ajay Kumar Singh were also seen going entering the CM's house.

Earlier in the day, Soren has lodged an FIR against senior ED personnel at the SC/ST police station here over searches conducted by the agency at his Delhi residence, officials said.

Soren alleged that the ED conducted the search operation at his residence in the national capital to "harass and malign him and his entire community", the officials said, quoting the FIR.

"An FIR has been lodged against some senior ED officials... we got the application from the chief minister," Ranchi Senior Superintendent of Police Chandan Kumar Sinha told PTI.

An ED team searched Soren’s Delhi residence on Monday, and camped there for almost 13 hours in order to question him in a money laundering case linked to an alleged land deal in Jharkhand.

The agency claimed to have seized Rs 36 lakh, an SUV and some "incriminating" documents during the search.

"My family members and I have suffered and experienced immense mental, psychological and emotional harm because of the acts committed...," he said in the FIR, according to the officials.

The chief minister also claimed that he was not the owner of the seized car, and the cash recovered did not belong to him as well, they said.

In a related development, legislators of the ruling JMM-led coalition gathered at Soren’s residence to express their solidarity with the CM.

Health Minister and Congress leader Banna Gupta said Soren is cooperating in the investigation, but added that it was the duty of constitutional institutions to conduct such probes "properly".

State Agriculture Minister Badal Patralekh told PTI that all legislators stand solidly behind the chief minister.

Hundreds of ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) workers and supporters from various districts of the state gathered in Ranchi’s Morabadi ground in protest against the questioning of Soren.

Holding party banners and posters and displaying bows and arrows, the supporters claimed that the CM was being targeted by the BJP-led central

government through the probe agency for his tribal identity.

"Hemant Soren is being targeted because he is a tribal. But, he is like a god to us. We can go to any extent for him," Jharna Pal, a JMM leader who came here from Jamshedpur, told PTI.

"If he (CM) goes to jail, we will also go with him," she said.

With prohibitory orders imposed within a radius of 100 metres at key locations in the state capital, including the CM house, the protests has been organised at the Morabado ground, a few kilometers away from Soren's residence.

Supporter Umesh Thakur from Hazaribag district said, "The chief minister has repeatedly been harassed even though he is cooperating. He replied to ED questions on January 20. But, he was again summoned within a week. Isn’t it a deliberate attempt to defame his image and the government?"

Taufiq Alam from Ramgarh said, "The BJP has been hatching a conspiracy against our chief minister to destabilise the government. But, they will not succeed in their mission. If anything happens to the chief minister, Jharkhand will see an intensive agitation."

Infighting in Soren family; Sita Soren opposes any move to make Kalpana CM

Ranchi | Amid hectic political activities and questioning of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren by the ED here on Wednesday, a rift has emerged in his family with his sister-in-law and JMM MLA Sita Soren openly opposing any move to make his wife Kalpana the state chief minister.

The objection comes against the backdrop of strong rumours and the BJP claim that Hemant Soren’s wife Kalpana will be the first choice for the chief minister's post in case her husband was arrested. Kalpana Soren was also present at the meeting of alliance legislators at the CM's residence on Tuesday.

Talking to PTI over the phone, Sita Soren, widow of former chief minister Shibu Soren's elder son Durga, said: "I would like to ask why only Kalpana Soren, who is not even an MLA and has no political experience. Under what circumstances her (Kalpana's) name is being touted as the next chief minister when there are so many senior leaders in the party."

MLA from the Jama assembly seat, Sita Soren, who was out of the city for some personal reasons, was not present in the Tuesday meeting.

"I will strongly protest any move to make her CM...," said Sita, who has been an MLA for nearly 14 years.

"There are several senior leaders, who could be given the reins of the party. If they want to elect from a family, I am the senior-most in the house and have been an MLA for around 14 years," she said.

A senior leader who did not wish to be quoted said several MLAs were absent during the Tuesday meeting at CM's residence here.

Earlier this month, Soren had dismissed speculations of his wife contesting from the Gandey assembly constituency and had termed it as a "complete imagination" of the BJP.

"Possibility of my wife contesting in the near future is a complete imagination of the BJP... The speculation about handing over reins to her is a fabric woven by the BJP to build a false narrative," the chief minister had told PTI.

The speculations were triggered by the Enforcement Directorate's recent summons to the chief minister coupled with the sudden resignation by the ruling JMM's Gandey MLA Sarfaraz Ahmad in December.

The opposition BJP has claimed that Ahmad was made to quit so that the chief minister's wife could contest from the Gandey in case of any eventuality in connection with the ED summonses.

Earlier, the ED had recorded the statement of the 48-year-old chief minister on January 20 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The investigation pertains to a "huge racket of illegal change of ownership of land by the mafia" in Jharkhand, according to the agency.

The ED 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 and deputy commissioner of Ranchi.

Soren lodges FIR against ED sleuths in Ranchi over agency's searches at Delhi house

Ranchi | Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has lodged an FIR against senior Enforcement Directorate personnel at the SC/ST police station here over searches conducted by the agency at his Delhi residence, officials said on Wednesday.

Soren alleged that the ED conducted the search operation at his residence in the national capital to "harass and malign him and his entire community", the officials said, quoting the FIR.

"An FIR has been lodged against some senior ED officials... we got the application from the chief minister," Ranchi Senior Superintendent of Police Chandan Kumar Sinha told PTI.

"My family members and I have suffered and experienced immense mental, psychological and emotional harm because of the acts committed...," Soren said in the FIR, according to the officials.

An ED team searched Soren’s Delhi residence on Monday, and camped there for almost 13 hours in order to question him in an alleged money laundering case linked to a land deal in Jharkhand.

The agency claimed to have seized Rs 36 lakh, an SUV and some "incriminating" documents during the search.

The chief minister claimed that he was not the owner of the seized car, and the cash recovered did not belong to him as well, they said.

Soren is presently being questioned by ED sleuths at his Ranchi residence in the same case.

The FIR has been lodged under sections of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that include instituting false, malicious or vexatious suit or criminal or other legal proceedings against a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe besides intentionally insulting or intimidating "with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view".

The sections also include abuse of any member of SC/ST by caste name in any place within public view or by words either written or spoken promoting feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will against them by "whoever, not being a member of a SC or a ST".

Reacting to the FIR, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took a jibe at the CM saying it should be verified first whether it is authentic and written by Soren as in place of CM's constituency Barhait which falls in Sahibganj district, it mentions Sahibganj constituency.

"It seems that Hemant Soren has lost his wisdom...There is no constituency named Sahibganj as mentioned by the CM in the FIR," BJP state president and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi said.

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