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Nephew Sameer's arrest a major blow for Chhagan Bhujbal

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:33 IST
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The crackdown

  • ED arrests Sameer Bhujbal, nephew of Chhagan
  • Chhagan\'s son Pankaj next, says BJP\'s Kirit Somaiya
  • The agency raids 9 premised of Bhujbal family

More in the story

  • What is the investigation all about?
  • Why Chhagan Bhujbal is in deep trouble?
  • How come NCP isn\'t backing him?

In a major blow to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested his nephew Sameer Bhujbal late Monday evening on charges of money laundering.

The arrest was followed by a raids at nine premises belonging to the Bhujbal family in different parts of Maharashtra.

Read: Will things ever be the same again for Chhagan Bhujbal?

Chhagan Bhujbal was the state's deputy chief minister during the erstwhile Congress-NCP regime. Sameer was a member of Parliament.

The arrest is as a major blow to Chhagan, though the NCP has termed it as political vendetta. The NCP spokesperson came in his defence, yet he is seen to be disowned by party chief Sharad Pawar.

Once NCP's face for the 'other backward classes' (OBC), Chhagan was left to defend himself, while Pawar projected Jitndra Awad, a member of the Maharasjtra Legislative Assembly, as the party's new OBC face.

ED officials have been investigating complaints of financial irregularities against Chhagan, his son Pankaj and Sameer. "After we got clinching evidence against Sameer Bhujbal during the raids, he was summoned to our office for questioning. He was placed under arrest after questioning for over nine hours," a senior ED official said.

He has been lodged at the agency's Ballard Pier office and will be produced in court on Tuesday. The official claimed that Sameer did not cooperate with the agency.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik criticised the state government for political vendetta, while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Parliamentarian Kirit Somaiya called it the victory of truth and said Pankaj would also be arrested soon.

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

"This is the victory of good over evil. We had assured the people of Maharashtra, that too during the Congress-NCP rule, that all those involved in the multi-crore Maharahtra Sadan Scam and similar financial irregularities will brought to justice. We have fulfilled the promise," Somaiya said.

The ED summoned Sameer and Pankaj in connection with the ongoing inquiry into complaints filed by Somaiya and current Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis during the previous regime. However, only Sameer turned up at the ED office on Monday.

Earlier, property worth Rs 280 crore belonging to Chhagan, his family members and relatives was attached by the ED.

Interestingly, the Bombay High Court, which is monitoring the investigations, had on 28 January sought a progress report from the ED within four weeks.

The ED filed two FIRs against the Bhujbals and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Maharashtra Police's Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) is also investigating the matter.

The ED filed FIRs on the basis of cases filed by the bureau against the Bhujbals. The directorate is investigating alleged financial irregularities in the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi and a land grabbing case at Kalina in Mumbai.

Somaiya alleged the investigations have shown that the Bhujbal family floated dubious companies to siphon off money. Most of their companies were only on paper. Union Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, in a written reply to a question on 18 December said the ED registered a case against Chhagan, Pankaj and Sameer as well as a firm called M/s KS Chamankar Enterprises.

Read more: Are co-op societies swindlers? Whistleblower Somaiya wants a CBI probe

During his tenure as Maharashtra's Public Works Department minister, Chhagan granted the contract for the construction of Maharashtra Sadan to KS Chamankar, a Mumbai-based contractor without following the due process of inviting tenders.

Somaiya alleged the project cost escalated to Rs 150 crore from the initial estimate of Rs 50 crore. He also said Chamankar sub-contracted the project to Origin Infrastructure, whcih belonged to Chhagan's relatives.

Also, a company owned by Vishakha Pankaj Bhujbal and Shefali Sameer Bhujbal supplied the furniture to be used at New Maharashtra Sadan. Besides, Chhagan allegedly awarded the development rights of a slum at Andheri to KS Chamankar. The government land was valued at around around Rs 1000 crore.

Chhagan also allegedly caused huge financial losses to the state exchequer by illegally leasing out prime land at Kalina to a private contractor. The ACB filed cases against him and five others related to this.

Somaiya complained to the ACB in July 2012 against Chhagan and his kin. After preliminary investigations, the then Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, late RR Patil, approved an inquiry into the matter.

The high court, hearing a public interest litigation by Somaiya in December 2014 directed the ACB to probe the matter. The PIL was filed due to delays in investigations and to prevent any cover-up, Somaiya said.

The ACB lodged an FIR against Chhagan and five others on 9 June, 2015. The accused include the then PWD sub-divisional engineer Gajanan Sawant, executive engineer Harish Patil, superintendent engineer Anilkumar Gaikwad and the PWD secretaries Sanjay Solanki and MH Shah.

The court ordered for the setting up of a special investigation team, comprising officials from the ACB and the ED, to conduct an open inquiry.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

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First published: 2 February 2016, 1:58 IST
 
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