Will Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren Be Arrested Over Involvement In Illegal Coal Mining Racket?
Loss of Assembly membership and chief ministership, is a far lesser worry for Soren than what is widely speculated to be his impending arrest in the illegal mining rackets.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who is reportedly facing disqualification from the state Assembly, has much more to worry about than the loss of his chair.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is learnt to have found Soren’s direct involvement in a Rs 1,000 crore illegal mining racket in the state.
Soren’s bank passbook and signed as well as unsigned cheques were recovered by the ED from the residence of his close aide Pankaj Mishra who has been named as the prime accused in laundering the proceeds from the racket.
The ED, in its prosecution complaint (equivalent to a chargesheet) filed before a special court under the stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), presented details of documents which provide clinching evidence of Soren’s involvement in the entire racket.
The chargesheet explicitly mentions: “One sealed envelope containing a passbook and two cheque books containing two signed cheques bearing nos. 004718 & 004719 and 31 blanks cheques bearing nos. 005720 to 004750 all pertaining to A/C No 5932xxxxxxxxxxx in the name of Shri Hemant Soren held with Bank of India, Gangaprasad Branch, Sahibganj” were recovered from Pankaj Mishra’s residence.
Mishra, who was arrested under the PMLA on 19 July, is now in judicial custody. Mishra is Soren’s designated representative for the Barhait Assembly segment from where Soren won in the last state polls.
The chargesheet contains more evidence of Soren’s involvement in the illegal coal mining racket. It contains a statement of former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha treasurer Ravi Kejriwal, who is one of the 43 prosecution witnesses, that implicates Soren.
Kejriwal, in his recorded statement before the ED, said he was present in the chief minister’s office when Soren directed Pankaj Mishra to hand over the proceeds from the illegal coal and sand mining operations in the Santhal Parganas (the tribal belt of the state) to Prem Prakash.
Prem Prakash, a prominent businessman, is also close to Soren. He was arrested by the ED on 5 August and is also currently in judicial custody. The ED had recovered two AK-47 rifles and 60 live cartridges during a raid on Prakash’s residence.
Kejriwal, in his statement to the ED, said that the proceeds from the illegal coal and sand mining operations that CM Soren had asked Mishra to transfer to Prem Prakash were to have been handed over to Amit Agarwal.
Agarwal, a Kolkata-based businessman, is very close to the Soren family and reportedly handles their investments in properties and stock markets.
Agarwal is also a close associate of senior IAS officer Pooja Singhal who was arrested by the ED in May this year for her involvement in the illegal mining racket as well as another scam involving siphoning NREGA funds.
Singhal has reportedly given statements to the ED naming some state officials and politicians, including Hemant Soren, in the illegal mining racket. Singhal was given additional charge as secretary of the mines and geology department (Soren holds charge of this department) on Agarwal’s recommendation.
The ED has followed the money trial and it is learnt that the central agency has collected a lot of evidence that shows Soren and some other JMM politicians and beneficiaries of the entire racket.
Residences and offices of chartered accountants and other associates of Prakash and Agarwal were raided by the ED and a lot of evidence that reportedly incriminates CM Soren has been recovered during these raids.
The ED stumbled upon the illegal mining racket while probing a complaint filed by one Sambhu Nandan Kumar against Pankaj Mishra. Kumar had alleged that Mishra prevented him from participating in a tender for operating a toll gate at Barharwa in Barhait. Soren is the Barhait MLA.
The ED found that Mishra is involved in running illegal coal and sand mining rackets as well as operating ferry services and other businesses in Barhait and other areas of the state. The proceeds from the illegal mining operations runs to over Rs 1,000 crore.
“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 had told Swarajya.
Top ED sources confirmed to Swarajya that a lot of incriminating evidence has already been gathered against CM Soren.
“The evidence that we have against some top politicians is already very strong but we are collating more evidence and recording more statements to build a foolproof case before proceeding against the politicians,” said a senior ED official.
There is no doubt that one of these ‘top politicians’ is Chief Minister Hemant Soren. It is learnt that the ED will call in him for interrogation and if he refuses to cooperate or gives evasive answers, he may be arrested.
Soren already faces an uncertain future over a ‘office of profit’ case. He reportedly issued a mining license to himself in 2021 after coming to power and holding the mines and geology portfolio. The BJP complained against him to Governor Ramesh Bais, who forwarded the complaint to the ECI.
The ECI, it is widely speculated, has recommended Soren's disqualification from membership of the state Assembly. The Governor, who received the ECI’s recommendation in a sealed envelope in late-August, has not yet revealed its contents. That has created a lot of political uncertainty in the state (read this).
But loss of his Assembly membership, and consequently his chief ministership, is a far lesser worry for Soren than what is widely speculated to be his impending arrest in the illegal mining rackets that were thriving under his watch and which he reportedly benefited from.
The ED noose tightening around Hemant Soren could be the reason behind Governor Bais not releasing the ECI’s recommendation that will lead to Soren losing his membership of the Assembly.
But that will help him gain public sympathy. Hence, it may be best to wait for the ED to act against Soren after gathering irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the illegal mining racket.
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