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ED catches up: the staggering wealth of Chhagan Bhujbal and Co

Parth MN | Updated on: 20 June 2015, 18:28 IST
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The assets

  • Bhujbal\'s family owns staggering wealth: 17 flats, six bungalows and a 1.8 hectare farmhouse.
  • Firm owned by son Pankaj and nephew Sameer transferred Rs 25 crore while being Rs 22 crore in the red.
  • Payments for Bhujbals\' private air travels made in cash by agent Sanjay Khatri.
  • BJP leader Kirit Somaiya says Bhujbal family owns mines, assets and properties in Indonesia.

The politics

  • NCP accuses BJP of vendetta in the Bhujbal case.
  • Maharashtra CM says High Court monitoring case and that there has been no political interference.
  • AAP\'s Anjali Damania alleges that the Chhagan Bhujbal Public Welfare Foundation got kickbacks.

The case

  • Maharashtra ACB registers two FIRs against Chhagan Bhujbal.
  • One FIR also against Bhujbal\'s son Pankaj and nephew Sameer.
  • ACB officials allege that the Bhujbal family was tipped off about the raids.

Former Maharashtra PWD minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, who reportedly started life as a flower vendor, appears to have flowered a bit too much.

In a state where purchasing a studio apartment is beyond the reach of most people, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and his family own 17 flats, six bungalows and a 1.8 hectare farmhouse in Mumbai, Pune and Nasik.

This may well be the tip of the iceberg, insinuated ACB officials. They reportedly said the Bhujbal family had got a hint of the raids and hid most of the documents, important papers, cash, gold and details of bank lockers.

Sixteen teams of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) conducted raids at properties owned by the Bhujbals on Tuesday. They were investigating alleged indiscretions while awarding contracts in the construction of the new Maharashtra Sadan at New Delhi, the Nashik-Mumbai toll road and building a central library at Kalina University.

The ACB had registered two FIRs against Bhujbal last week. His son Pankaj Bhujbal and nephew Sameer Bhujbal have also been named in one of the FIRs.

Disproportionate assets

The ACB revealed that Bhujbal's collection of properties includes three floors in the Solitaire building in Santa Cruz, a six-bedroom bungalow in Lonavala, with imported furniture, a helipad and a huge garden.

While this bungalow is in the name of Sameer and Pankaj, the ACB noted there are other bungalows in the name of Bhujbal's wife Meena in Navi Mumbai and Pankaj in Nashik, which are estimated to be worth around Rs 100 crore.

One of the bungalows is built on 46,500 sq ft of property, with 25 rooms, a massive swimming pool and a gym. There is also a 2,000 sq ft flat at Worli, a 600 sq ft flat in Mazgaon, and a 1,200 sq ft mini-theatre at Manek Mahal in Churchgate, which is in Meena's name.

Allegations against Bhujbals range from FERA & FEMA violations to money laundering & disproportionate property

The ACB confirmed that the searches at these places were carried out to establish the assets owned by Chhagan, Pankaj and Sameer.

The petitioner, BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, expects the chargesheet to be filed 'in a few months'. He asserted: "I think the case should be heard in the courts within a year, considering the seriousness of his corruption."

Other corrupt practices

Somaiya, in his letter dated 6 February 2013, has accused Bhujbal of corrupt practices, violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and also the Foreign Exchange Management Act, abuse of government power, money laundering, benami transactions and disproportionate property.

He has cited the example of Armstrong Energy Pvt Ltd, floated in 2005 and owned by Sameer and Pankaj.

The operation of this company is stated to be 'power generation' but the company has not generated any power since its formation, says the letter. The sole intention of the company is 'money laundering' and 'acquiring assets in India and foreign countries'.

The company formed three subsidiaries in foreign countries, as per Somaiya's letter, which later acquired mines, assets and properties in Indonesia. Armstrong, with negative reserves of Rs 22 crore as on 31 March 2011, transferred Rs 25 crore to its subsidiaries in Indonesia and Singapore.

Mining and 'hawala king' Anil Vastavade, who was remanded to 10-day custody by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in February 2013, and Antim Totla, one of the prominent names in the infamous Telgi scam, helped the Bhujbal family in acquiring these properties, the letter alleges. Several meetings had transpired between them at Jakarta, the letter says.

Somaiya has also disclosed some of the 'dubious' travel documents of Bhujbal, which include two trips to Jakarta and several trips to Dubai. The letter also alleges that Sanjay Khatri, the agent of the Bhujbals, made all the transactions in cash for their travels in India by private aircraft and helicopters.

While the NCP has accused the BJP of vendetta, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told reporters that the probe is 'monitored by the High Court and there is no question of political interference'.

Misuse of office

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Anjali Damania, the first petitioner to draw attention to this issue, said: "Bhujbal has looted money through his various companies."

She has cited eight scams in her PIL. "The companies that got contracts under Bhujbal, interestingly, gave kickbacks to the 'Chhagan Bhujbal Public Welfare Foundation', whose beneficiaries are the family members of Bhujbal," she said.

Damania pointed out malpractices in the construction of the Maharashtra Sadan, where Bhujbal allegedly favoured a contractor by the name of Chamankar Enterprises. "The contractor, in turn, made substantial payments to two companies - Origin Infrastructure Pvt Ltd and Ideen Furniture - which were controlled by Bhujbal and his relatives," she said.

Mining baron Anil Vastavade & Antim Totla of Telgi case are in trouble for helping Bhujbals acquire property

In the process, the government suffered an estimated loss of Rs 786 crore. But according to the Public Accounts Committee, the incurred loss is around Rs 6,000 crore.

Another scam in which Bhujbal is skating on thin ice is the library at Kalina University, where he gave a contract to Indiabulls to build the library on a 24,453 sq m plot.

"Later, Indiabulls made two direct transactions of Rs 98 lakh and Rs 1.47 crore to the Bhujbal Foundation," said Damania. It has been alleged that it was in violation of rules on a public-private partnership basis.

Senior journalist Kumar Ketkar said: "The real estate sharks grew in Mumbai in the last 25 years, out of which Bhujbal was the PWD minister for a considerable period of time. He used his position to the hilt."

However, he also said there is 'enough room' to say this is 'vendetta politics'. While acting promptly against Bhujbal, the ACB granted special permissions to Ajit Pawar, who is allegedly involved in the multi-crore irrigation scam, by not summoning him to the ACB office.

"Because of Sharad Pawar's proximity to the BJP, Ajit Pawar has been treated with kid gloves," said Ketkar. "If the BJP is keen about unearthing irregular practices, it should conduct inquiries against all persons accused of serious malpractices."

There is scepticism regarding how the case will end, as not a single minister has been convicted on corruption charges in Maharashtra in the last two decades.

But Somaiya remains confident. "There is enough evidence against him and, the ED is on solid ground," he said. "A minimum of ten cases will be proved against him. They (Bhujbals) will be behind bars," says Somaiya.

First published: 18 June 2015, 18:35 IST
 
Parth MN @catchhindi

Parth is a special correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in mass communication and journalism from Journalism Mentor, Mumbai. Prior to journalism, Parth was a professional cricketer in Mumbai for 10 years.

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