ED opposes Hemant Soren’s plea for interim bail to campaign in Lok Sabha polls

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday opposed former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren’s request for interim bail to campaign in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, accusing him of attempting to thwart an ongoing money laundering investigation in an alleged land scam by “misusing state machinery” and “through his stooges”.

Former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren ANI 1716232212079
Former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren. (ANI)

Submitting the affidavit in the court a day ahead of the hearing, the agency stressed that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader is involved in the illicit acquisition and possession of properties deemed proceeds of crime and that his conduct disentitles him to any reprieve.

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“There is an active attempt by the petitioner (Soren) to subvert the investigation by misusing state machinery and to project the proceeds of crime as untainted through his associates,” said ED’s affidavit, adding Soren committed the offence of money laundering and was involved in criminal activities related to the proceeds of crime and thus, no case for interim bail is made out.

The federal agency said that Soren is disentitled to seek any interim bail also because he has foisted false cases on the investigating officers of ED under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Act to prevent and obstruct the authorities under the PMLA from discharging their duties.

“There is an active attempt on the part of the petitioner to subvert the investigation by misusing state machinery and to project the proceeds of crime as untainted through his stooges… If the petitioner is released on interim bail, he will misuse the state machinery to thwart further investigation in the case as well as influence witnesses and tamper with evidence,” said the agency, underlining that it has materials on record to establish that Soren is involved in acquisition and possession of properties, including lands, in an illegal manner.

“He (Soren) has misused the state machinery and put them to wrong use to create parallel false evidence in this case and as such, any relief granted to him shall result in influencing witnesses and frustrating the evidence against him… The petitioner will tamper with the witnesses who have come forward and there is a grave likelihood that he will overawe the witnesses in this case. Hence, the prayer of interim relief is vehemently opposed,” stated the agency.

The ED’s affidavit was filed ahead of a scheduled hearing by a vacation bench headed by justice Dipankar Datta on Tuesday. Soren’s petition challenges his arrest by ED in January and seeks interim bail due to the ongoing general elections. Soren’s plea has pressed the need for parity with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Jailed in connection with a money laundering case, Kejriwal was on May 10 granted interim bail for political campaigning during the Lok Sabha polls.

When the plea was heard on May 17, Soren’s lawyer and senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the JMM leader was willing to surrender before Jharkhand jail authorities on June 2, the same day Kejriwal is required to return to a Delhi prison after his 21-day bail period ends. On that day, additional solicitor general (ASG) SV Raju, representing ED, opposed the plea, pointing out that the JMM leader’s regular bail plea was already rejected by a Jharkhand court and that the agency has sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the former chief minister was a beneficiary of the proceeds of crime in the alleged land scam.

ED’s affidavit opposed Soren’s temporary bail plea, arguing that granting such bail would set a precedent allowing other incarcerated politicians to claim similar privileges. The agency emphasised that elections are a constant feature in India, and accepting Soren’s request would mean no politician could be detained during electoral periods.

The affidavit further highlighted that under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), many politicians are currently in judicial custody, with courts upholding their detention. It stressed that Soren should not be treated differently, noting: “There must be several political leaders in judicial custody throughout the country in non-PMLA offences. There is no reason why a special prayer for special treatment by the petitioner should be accepted.”

The agency underscored that the right to campaign is not a fundamental, constitutional, or legal right. “If interim bail is granted for campaigning, no politician can be arrested and kept in judicial custody since elections are an all-year-round phenomenon,” it stated, adding that granting Soren’s request would unjustly elevate politicians over ordinary citizens.

ED also pointed out that Soren’s arrest on January 31 has been upheld by the Jharkhand high court, and his regular bail application was dismissed by the trial court on May 13. “The only legal recourse available to the petitioner is to challenge the order rejecting his bail application before the high court,” the affidavit stated. Until such an appeal is made, Soren is deemed to have accepted his judicial custody, according to ED.

The top court had on April 29 issued a notice to ED on Soren’s petition seeking interim bail in a money laundering case lodged by the agency in connection with an alleged land scam in Jharkhand. In his plea, Soren also cited the ongoing general elections while pointing out the high court had failed to deliver its order on his challenge to the ED arrest despite reserving its judgment on February 28.

But three days later, the high court dismissed Soren’s plea, noting that he “cannot wriggle out of the mess” he “created for himself”, adding there is an abundance of documents that lay a foundation for the arrest and remand of the petitioner to police and judicial custody.

A day later, Soren filed an appeal against the May 3 high court order in the apex court, amid the approaching elections phase in the state on May 13.

The alleged scam pertains to usurping prime landed parcels, including a 4.55 acre defence land at Morabadi Mouza at Ranchi, and a land parcel of 7.6 acres at Hehal, Ranchi – both valued at over 74 crore at the current market price, besides several other land parcels – by the accused persons by making fake deeds using manufactured identities and falsifying original land records at Circle Offices and Registrar of Assurances (RoA), Kolkata and Circle Offices in Jharkhand, according to the ED charge sheet. Overall, ED has recovered documents related to at least 27 properties of which alleged fake deeds were created by the accused people.

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Soren’s arrest happened minutes after he resigned as chief minister of the state.

ED has claimed that it has evidence that the JMM leader is the key beneficiary in alleged land-related irregularities in Ranchi, where a network of brokers and businessmen were allegedly working over the years to create fake deeds of landed parcels by forging records in the registrar offices and further selling them off. He has denied the charges.

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