The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Friday said it has seized Rs 11.88 crore in cash from 37 bank accounts belonging to Pankaj Mishra, a close aide of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, and Mishra’s associates in connection with a case of money laundering linked to alleged illegal mining.
According to the agency, the cash came from illegal mining at several places, including Soren’s constituency Sahebganj.
Cash has also been recovered from the bank accounts of Dahoo Yadav, an associate of Mishra.
The ED had earlier conducted searches at 19 locations in Jharkhand’s Sahibganj, Barhet, Rajmahal, Mirza Chauki and Barharwa areas, seizing documents and Rs 5.34 crore of “unaccounted cash” on July 7.
“During this search operation, the ED also seized five stone crushers and five illegal firearm cartridges being operated illegally from the site. Evidence collected during the investigation including statements of various persons, digital evidence and documents has revealed that the seized cash/bank balance is derived from large scale illegal mining being carried out in Sahibganj area including forest area,” the agency said in a statement.
“An offence arising out of illegal mining and an income of Rs 100 crore has also been ascertained,” it said.
The ED action comes at a time when Soren is facing corruption charges for allotting a mining lease to himself and a plot to his wife. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has already issued notice to Soren’s brother and state MLA Basant Soren in connection with the mining lease.
Basant is an MLA from the Dumka constituency.
Earlier, the Election Commission, which is probing whether Basant’s case could lead to his disqualification as an MLA, had sent a notice to the chief minister seeking his stand on the allegations against him.
The allegations were earlier levelled at a press conference by former state chief minister and BJP leader Raghubar Das, who also indicated that Mishra was involved in questionable deals.
In May, the ED raided 36 places related to alleged irregularities in the MGNREGA scheme.
These locations also include the premises of Jharkhand Mining Secretary Pooja Singhal. The agency also seized Rs 19.76 crore in cash.
The ED said, “In this case also, the evidence collected during the investigation including the evidence collected during searches and statements of various persons have revealed that the bulk of the seized cash was obtained from illegal mining and was carried out by senior bureaucrats and belonged to politicians.”
Singhal and Suman Kumar, who were allegedly his chartered accountants, were arrested in the case and are now in judicial custody. A prosecution complaint has been filed in this case.
In all, the ED said, it has seized Rs 36.58 crore of alleged illegal proceeds.
According to sources, the case against Mishra originates from a June 2020 complaint made by a toll tax contractor with the Badharwa police station in Sahibganj. The complaint referred to a clash and alleged assault on directions of Mishra and a minister in the Soren government.
It further alleged that the clash was a result of a dispute over toll collection from vehicles entering Badharwa Nagar Panchayat. The complainant alleged that the minister’s brother was also competing for the tender and had tried to obstruct the process by bidding exorbitantly to a fake company to secure the contract, only to disrespect the bid later.