ED arrests Punjab CM’s nephew in sand mining case

Amid controversy over ‘motivated’ arrest in sand mining case, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu calls for ‘honest CM candidate’.

February 04, 2022 08:43 am | Updated 10:54 pm IST - New Delhi:

Enforcement Directorate officials escort Bhupinder Singh Honey, nephew of Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, to a court in Jalandhar on February 4, 2022 in connection with a money laundering case.

Enforcement Directorate officials escort Bhupinder Singh Honey, nephew of Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, to a court in Jalandhar on February 4, 2022 in connection with a money laundering case.

Amid the intense campaign for the Assembly election in Punjab, due less than three weeks from now on February 20, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday arrested Bhupinder Singh ‘Honey ’, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s nephew, in connection with an illegal sand mining case. He was later produced before a special court and sent to ED custody till February 8.

Sensing an opportunity to plug his case as CM face, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu said the Congress must choose an ‘honest’ person as its Chief Ministerial face for the upcoming polls.

 

Talking to reporters in Amritsar after the ED arrest, Mr. Sidhu said Punjab needs an honest person as Chief Minister. “If the one who is chosen (CM candidate) is dishonest or is part of a mafia, then people will reject him and will certainly vote for change. If someone is himself involved in protecting the mafia, then how will he cleanse the mafia?”

Mr. Sidhu and Mr. Channi are frontrunners in the Congress for the Chief Minister’s post.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to announce the party’s chief ministerial candidate on February 6 at a rally in Ludhiana. Mr. Gandhi will attend the rally virtually, said Congress’s in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Chaudhary at a press conference.

Hours of questioning

Following several hours of questioning at its Jalandhar office on Thursday, the agency arrested Mr. Honey and on Friday. Last month, the agency had conducted searches at multiple locations in Punjab, which led to the seizure of about ₹10 crore in cash and jewelry worth lakhs of rupees. The premises of Mr. Channi’s nephew were also searched.

The ED move had triggered a sharp reaction from the Congress while the Opposition parties launched a scathing attack on the party.

Speaking at a gathering, Mr. Sidhu said people at the top want a weak Chief Minister. His remarks were seen as directed at Congress’s ‘central leadership’ and his rival for the top post, Mr Channi. However, Mr. Sidhu’s close aide later clarified that he was referring to the central government.

Mr. Sidhu said the creation of a new Punjab was in the hands of the Chief Minister.

“What kind of Chief Minister we have will determine how the State would be. In the last 25-30 years the Chief Ministers have ruined the State. This time, you will choose the Chief Minister. If an honest person is seated at the top, then honesty shall flow till down. But if at the top a thief (chor) is seated then it’s all finished..,” he said. He added, “..people at the top want a weak Chief Minister who can dance to their tunes.”

Reacting to ED’s action, Congress’s Harish Chaudhary said the anti-Punjab forces want to suppress Mr. Channi as the 111-day Congress government of Punjab under the leadership of Mr. Channi has taken many historic decisions in the public interest, about which the whole country knows.

BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh, however, debunked the allegations that the ED’s arrest was politically motivated. Mr. Chugh asserted that the case against Mr. Channi’s nephew was registered in 2018 when Mr. Channi was a cabinet minister in the Congress government. He said the ED has only done a follow-up action in the investigation. “The recovery of ₹10 crore from Mr. Honey’s residence revealed links to the sand mafia that the Chief Minister’s family has been patronising,” he said.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal demanded the immediate dismissal of Mr. Channi. He alleged that Mr Honey had admitted that the ₹11 crore recovered from him was part of a cache received from the sand mafia.

Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Punjab affairs co-in-charge Raghav Chadha said Mr. Channi’s nephew himself has admitted that the money seized during the raids was related to the sand mafia and transfer-posting.

“..even if we assume that the ED raids at the house of Channi's relative were politically influenced, the question arises about the sources of ₹10 crore cash, luxury vehicles, land property worth crores of rupees,” said Mr. Chadda.

The ED’s money laundering case is based on a First Information Report registered by the Punjab police on March 7, 2018, alleging illegal sand mining in six quarries located in the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district. The police had invoked various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act against the accused persons.

The case was registered after multiple teams comprising officials of the district administration, police and the mining department carried out surprise checks and found people illegally mining sand. Several excavation machines and vehicles used for transporting the sand were also seized.

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