In a jolt to the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, its senior leader and former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal was on Monday night arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with corruption cases lodged against him. The NCP claimed Bhujbal was innocent while the ruling BJP welcomed the arrest.
The development capped more than 11 hours of sustained interrogation and recording of the statement of Bhujbal by ED sleuths since noon on Monday.
Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik criticised the development claiming Bhujbal was innocent, that he had done nothing wrong, and that there was nothing against him. He reiterated that the ruling BJP was allegedly pressurising the investigating agencies.
The summons followed a complaint by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya in connection with cases lodged under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and Foreign Exchange Management Act pertaining to alleged irregularities in the construction of the new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi, allegedly worth several hundred crores of rupees.
Reacting to the ED moves, Somaiya said “Bhujbal’s arrest was inevitable” and predicted that the same fate awaits other NCP leaders involved in the mega irrigation scams which he has unearthed.
State BJP president Raosaheb Danve, Minorities Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse and other party leaders welcomed Bhujbal’s arrest.
On Monday morning, Bhujbal, accompanied by party colleague Jitendra Awhad, several legislators, a large number of party activists and his supporters from Nashik reached the ED office in response to its summons of March 8.
Police deployed tight security and clamped prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or more people in the vicinity of the ED office.
The action against Bhujbal came after over a month since his nephew Sameer Bhujbal was similarly summoned in February and subsequently placed under arrest by the ED.
Last month, the ED had also questioned Chhagan Bhujbal’s son Pankaj Bhujbal, a legislator, and allowed him to go, even as his father cried foul, while the NCP termed it “political vendetta”.
The ED probe follows a Bombay High Court ruling in January when it sought progress reports from the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau and the ED within four weeks on their investigations against the Bhujbals.
Following Somaiya’s complaints, the ED had lodged two first information reports against the Bhujbals and others under the PMLA to probe the Maharashtra Sadan scam in New Delhi and the Kalina land grabbing scam in Mumbai.
The ED had conducted searches twice at nine premises belonging to the Bhujbal trio and others, and subsequently served attachment orders on three prime properties linked to the Bhujbal family members worth over Rs.280 crore in Mumbai.
Simultaneously, the state Anti-Corruption Bureau had lodged a charge sheet against the three Bhujbals and 14 others in the Maharashtra Sadan case.
The Maharashtra Sadan, a state government guest house in New Delhi, was constructed at a cost of Rs.100 crore during the tenure of the erstwhile Congress-NCP government.
Speaking to media persons outside the ED offices, Awhad said the entire NCP party, including its president Sharad Pawar stood with Bhujbal.