More Trouble For Hemant Soren As ED Chargesheets Close Aides As Beneficiaries Of Illegal Coal Mining Worth Over Rs 1,000 Crore

More Trouble For Hemant Soren As ED Chargesheets Close Aides As Beneficiaries Of Illegal Coal Mining Worth Over Rs 1,000 Crore

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 22, 2022 04:10 PM +05:30 IST
More Trouble For Hemant Soren As ED Chargesheets Close Aides As Beneficiaries Of Illegal Coal Mining Worth Over Rs 1,000 CroreJharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.
  • The ED chargesheet names ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Pankaj Mishra as the kingpin of the racket.

The woes of Jharkhand’s embattled Chief Minister Hemant Soren seem to be piling up. 

The latest setback comes in the form of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing an illegal coal mining racket similar to the one in neighbouring Bengal, filing a chargesheet against Soren’s close aides for their involvement in the racket. 

The ED has also estimated that the proceeds from the racket amount to over Rs 1,000 crore.

The ED chargesheet names ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA Pankaj Mishra as the kingpin of the racket.

Mishra, who was arrested on 19 July by the ED and is now in judicial custody, is very close to Soren who is said to be facing disqualification from the state assembly for having held a stone mining licence.

Mishra is said to be the primary financial manager of the JMM and had been advising Soren on key matters. His arrest was a big blow to the Chief Minister.

“Investigations have revealed that Pankaj Mishra, who enjoys huge political clout, controls the illegal mining businesses as well as inland ferry services in Sahebganj 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 Sahebganj,” an ED spokesperson said. 

The ED chargesheet filed under the stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) of 2002 before a special court in Ranchi, also names another associate of Soren —businessman Prem Prakash — as a prime accused. 

Mishra’s interrogation led the ED to zero in on Prem Prakash who is close to many top politicians and bureaucrats in the state.

Two AK-47 rifles and 60 live cartridges were recovered from one of Prakash’s residences. Prakash was arrested on 5 August and is in jail. 

The ED had also raided residences and offices of chartered accountants Jaishankar Jaipuriar and Anita Kumari and seized many documents that reveal the involvement of JMM politicians and government officials close to them in the illegal coal mining racket. 

A senior ED officer said that the agency’s investigations have revealed that Mishra, Prem Prakash and another kingpin Bachuu Yadav were also involved in laundering huge sums of money on behalf of some top JMM politicians. 

The ED searched 47 locations across the country and seized Rs 5.34 crore in cash. The agency froze bank accounts in which a total of Rs 13.32 crore — proceeds from the illegal coal mining racket — were parked. The ED also seized an inland vessel MV Infralink-III, five stone crushers and two Hyva trucks belonging to Mishra. 

While the Ranchi court took cognisance of the ED chargesheet earlier this week, the ED’s investigation is still underway.

The chargesheet is not the final one and more names are likely to be added to the list of accused. 

BJP leaders say that Hemant Soren is likely to come under the ED’s scanner as more evidence is unearthed.

“Prem Prakash is very close to Soren family friend Amit Agarwal. Agarwal manages the Soren family’s financial matters and investments. Prakash is also involved with Maoists,” said BJP Lok Sabha MP Nishikant Dubey.

Dubey says that a thorough probe will reveal Hemant Soren’s name as a major beneficiary of the racket. 

The ED’s assertion that investigations into the racket are ongoing and the chargesheet that has been submitted is not the final one is a grave cause for worry for Hemant Soren. 

“It means that the ED thinks there is much more to the racket than what it has been able to unearth so far. And the evidence is said to be piling up against Soren and some other JMM leaders,” said Dubey, who represents the Godda Lok Sabha seat. 

The money trail, those in the know confirmed to Swarajya, is slowly leading to the JMM leadership.

The proceeds from the racket were routed by Hemant Soren’s close aide Pankaj Mishra on behalf of top JMM leaders through a web of transactions and shell companies located in various parts of the country. 

The ED raids on the chartered accountants and in properties in Bihar, Delhi, Gurugram, Noida and Tamil Nadu has led to seizure of many incriminating documents which are being analysed now. 

More people, confirmed ED sources, will be summoned for questioning in the case. And the ED is likely to ask for fresh custody of Pankaj Mishra and others for interrogation.

Mishra is learnt to be upset with Hemant Soren for not doing enough to bail him out. He (Mishra) has been behind bars for more than two months. Soren has not made any attempts to defend him. 

“Mishra is very unhappy that Soren, who he has been very close to, has virtually abandoned him. Soren has not even extended any legal assistance and has left Mishra to defend himself on his own. It is thus quite likely for Mishra to start talking and spill the beans about involvement of top leaders of his party (the JMM) in the racket,” said a senior BJP leader, who was a cabinet minister in the last BJP government in the state. 

The ED’s ongoing scrutiny of documents seized from the chartered accountants is also leading the agency to suspect the direct involvement of top JMM leaders in the racket. 

All this is bad news for Hemant Soren who is facing an uncertain future. State governor Ramesh Bais is yet to reveal the contents of a letter he received from the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a complaint against Soren for violating the Representation of People Act. 

The ECI is widely believed to have recommended disqualification of Hemant Soren from the assembly and a bar on him contesting elections for a number of years. 

The Governor’s non-disclosure of the ECI’s recommendations has kept Hemant Soren, and the JMM-Congress-RJD government in the state on tenterhooks. 

Also read: Explained: The Political Confusion And Conundrum In Jharkhand

Faced With Uncertainty And Dissension, A Desperate Hemant Soren Resorts To Brinkmanship In Jharkhand

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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