ED to record 'missing' Soren's statement on Jan 31

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) team will record Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren‘s statement at 1 pm on January 31 at his Ranchi residence, reported PTI, citing sources.

The ED team on Monday had visited the Delhi residence of Soren to question him in connection with a money laundering investigation in an alleged land fraud case and camped there for over 12 hours.

However, Soren was “missing” and could not be contacted by the federal agency, claimed PTI sources. A family member of Soren had alleged that a “false” narrative was being set to “delegitimise” the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader’s position.

The member, who did not wish to be identified, claimed there were repeated communications to ED and compliance to the summons including willingness to record his statement on January 31, 2024 at 1 pm at his Ranchi residence.

The MLAs of Soren‘s political party, JMM, have also been asked to stay in Ranchi till January 31, 2024.

Soren had left Ranchi for Delhi on January 27, with his party saying on Monday that he had gone for personal work and will be back.

But the Jharkhand unit of the BJP claimed that the chief minister has been “absconding” for the last 18 hours, fearing action of the ED, and urged Governor CP Radhakrishnan to take cognisance of the matter as the “credibility and reputation of Jharkhand are at stake”.

The ED had questioned Soren at his official residence in Ranchi on January 20 in the case and had issued a fresh summons to him asking him to confirm his availability for questioning on either January 29 or January 31, the official sources said, adding Soren had sent a communication to the agency but had not confirmed the date and time for questioning.

In an email to the federal agency on Sunday, the 48-year-old JMM executive president alleged that the ED actions were “motivated by political agenda” to disrupt the state government’s functioning and claimed that its insistence to record his statement again on or before January 31 reeked of malice.

“Preserve video recording of seven-hour questioning (of January 20) to make available to the court of law,” Soren said in the email while agreeing to record his statement on January 31 at the Ranchi residence.

Officials of the federal probe agency accompanied by Delhi Police personnel reached the 5/1 Shanti Niketan building in South Delhi around 9 am and were still there after 9 pm, while several media teams stood outside.

They moved out briefly from the premises at 8 pm and checked a BMW car parked there before going back inside without replying to queries from the media.

“Our team came to the residence of the chief minister to question him but he is not here. The ED teams also went to the Jharkhand Bhawan and a few other locations but could not find the chief minister,” a source said.

The ED teams will be at the residence till Soren returns, the sources said, adding that authorities are also keeping a vigil at the Delhi airport.

While the chief minister’s office was tightlipped on the development, Jharkhand Governor Radhakrishnan said he was keeping a watch on the situation in the state in the wake of the ED summons to the CM.

“I am keeping a watch on the overall situation as the custodian of the Constitution. It is the job of the Governor, I am doing it. We will cross the bridge when it comes,” he told reporters when queried about the options before the Raj Bhavan in the wake of the political situation in the state.

In the state capital Ranchi, security was tightened at the CM House, Raj Bhavan and central government offices on Monday as visuals from the south Delhi house of Soren flashed through the day.

A massive rally was taken out by the JMM workers in Ranchi accusing the ED of targeting Soren, who is the executive president of the ruling JMM. Protests were also held in Jamshedpur and other parts of the state.

“The CM went to Delhi for some personal work and he will be back. But, the ED action is uncalled for and unconstitutional. It seems that the move is politically motivated,” alleged JMM general secretary and spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya.

BJP leaders, however, questioned the whereabouts of the CM.

“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,” Jharkhand BJP president Babulal Marandi claimed in a post on X.

“The mobile phones of both of them have also been switched off. Since then, the ED and Delhi Police are searching for them. There cannot be any other example of such gross negligence regarding the security of the chief minister,” the former CM said.

“What could be more worrying and shameful that the chief minister of a state, who is holding a constitutional post, breaks the protocol and absconds,” Marandi said.

Jharkhand Congress president Rajesh Thakur alleged that confusion was being created surrounding Soren’s location under a “well-designed conspiracy”.

“Attempts are being made to create a perception that the President’s rule will be imposed in the state. People are spreading rumours that the CM is missing,” Thakur said.

Meanwhile, asked bout the possibility of imposition of the President’s Rule in the state, the governor said it was just “guesswork” at present, adding that political parties should not get involved in it.

On Soren skipping ED summons in connection with a money laundering probe, he said, “I will tell you one thing – nobody is above the law… If the CM is not responding today, he has to respond tomorrow. ”

A top Jharkhand government official said, “It is an unprecedented situation here. No one knows the whereabouts of the chief minister.”

The agency had recorded the statement of the 48-year-old chief minister for the first time in the case on January 20 after investigators went to his official residence in Ranchi.

They recorded his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) during the about seven hours they spent at his home and put about 17-18 questions to the CM.

It is understood that as the questioning did not finish on that day, a fresh summons was issued.

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.

(With inputs from PTI)

Roy Walsh

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