The Enforcement Directorate has arrested Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut in a money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the redevelopment of a Mumbai ‘chawl’, officials said.
Mr. Raut, 60, was arrested after over six hours of questioning at the ED’s zonal office in south Mumbai’s Ballard Estate.
He has been taken into custody at 12:05 a.m. on Monday under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) as he was not cooperating in the probe, the officials claimed.
Mr. Raut will be produced before a special PMLA court in Mumbai later in the day, where the Enforcement Directorate will seek his custody.
On Sunday, the ED detained Mr. Raut, a close confidant of Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, amid high drama after conducting raids on the MP’s Mumbai residence early in the morning.
Mr. Raut was taken in custody after a marathon nine hours of quizzing by the ED authorities at his bungalow ‘Maitri’ in Mumbai’s Bhandup area.
The MP is being investigated by the ED in connection with a money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities involving the re-development of Mumbai ‘Patra chawl.’
Mr. Raut’s lawyer, however, said the ED had not found any document related to the alleged Patra chawl scam and that the MP was going to the ED’s office in response to the agency’s “summons”.
Denies any wrongdoing
Soon after the agency authorities knocked his doors at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Mr. Raut, in a series of tweets, denied any wrongdoing while stressing he was being targeted in an instance of political vendetta.
“I swear by the late Balasabheb Thackeray [Shiv Sena founder] that I have nothing to do with any scam. I will die but won’t leave Shiv Sena,” he said.
Under the ED’s scanner since April this year, Mr. Raut had skipped the agency’s summons twice in recent days (the latest being issued on July 27) while stating he could appear only after August 7 owing to the Parliament being in session.
The Sena MP, known for his acerbic speeches and sharp-tongued harangues, maintained a defiant mien en route to the ED’s office in Mumbai.
While tearful family members (including wife Varsha) watched the MP’s departure, Mr. Raut, wearing a saffron flag and waving to his supporters who gathered outside his bungalow, appeared unruffled.
“The ED has no proof against me. Everyone knows this is an attempt to suppress my voice. The manner in which false evidence is being cooked up against me is to solely weaken the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra. But neither entity is so weak... I will not bow before anyone but keep on fighting and never leave the Sena,” vowed Mr. Raut, remarking that the Eknath Shinde camp (rebel Sena MLAs) ought “to be ashamed of themselves.”
Mr. Thackeray dubbed the ED’s action a “shameless conspiracy and a blatant attempt to silence dissenting voices.”
“Sanjay Raut may be arrested today… This conspiracy is shameless. A new era has begun where democracies are going to be murdered in this manner. Even the Chief Justice of India has said don’t treat your political opponents as enemies,” Mr. Thackeray said, hitting out at the BJP, adding that it was trying to strangulate a one-time ally [Sena].
In April, the ED provisionally attached assets worth over ₹11.15 crore of Ms. Varsha Raut and two associates as part of this investigation.
The attached properties are in the form of land held by Pravin M. Raut — Mr. Raut’s aide and a former director of Guru Ashish Construction Pvt Ltd, at Palghar, Saphale (town in Palghar) and Padgha (in Thane district). The attached properties also included a flat in Mumbai’s suburb Dadar held by Ms. Raut and eight plots at Kihim beach in Alibaug jointly held by Ms. Raut and Swapna Patkar, wife of Sujit Patkar — another close associate of Mr. Raut, as per the ED.
While the Thackeray faction said it would support Mr. Raut through thick and thin, the ruling alliance of the Shinde rebel camp and the BJP appeared jubilant and gloated at Mr. Raut’s discomfiture.
A visibly elated Kirit Somaiya, who has been targeting Mr. Raut with his ‘expose’, expressed happiness that the ED had raided the MP’s residence while that Mr. Raut would “now have to give an account of his misdemeanour and end up as Nawab Malik’s [incarcerated NCP leader and former Minister in the erstwhile MVA government] jail-mate.”
Mr. Raut has long been the bete noire of the rebel Sena MLAs, who have held him squarely responsible for allegedly ‘colluding’ with Sharad Pawar’s NCP to finish off the Shiv Sena. The MP had irked the rebels with his sharp remarks against them following Mr. Shinde’s intra-party rebellion which toppled the MVA government.
Speaking in Aurangabad, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said if Mr. Raut indeed was innocent as he claimed, then he had nothing to fear.
‘9 a.m. loudspeaker’
Reacting to Mr. Raut’s remarks that he would never leave the Sena under any pressure, Mr. Shinde, mocking the MP as a ‘9 a.m. loudspeaker’ (the time of Mr. Raut’s daily press conferences) quipped: “We don’t want to put pressure on anyone nor have any wish to induct people in this fashion in either the Shiv Sena (Shinde camp) or the BJP...And no one in the BJP has ever invited Raut.”
The Shinde faction leader Ramdas Kadam mocked Mr. Raut and said the MP was a “strong man” who claimed to know the answers to everything and that dealing with the ED ought to be no big challenge for him.
Independent MLA from Badnera, Ravi Rana, claimed that the ED’s investigation would ultimately lead the threads of Mr. Raut’s alleged irregularities right up to Mr. Thackeray.
While the NCP and Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar gave a guarded reaction, the Congress condemned the action against Mr. Raut as another instance of the BJP-led Centre’s malicious intent to silence every form of dissent.
Mr. Ajit Pawar, Mr. Raut’s ally in the MVA coalition, said only the Sena leader could answer as to why the agency was repeatedly raiding his house.
“Central agencies, be it the ED, the Income Tax or the CBI have the right to probe anybody based on a complaint received against that person,” said Mr. Pawar, the former Deputy Chief Minister in the erstwhile MVA government.
However, Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole hit out at the BJP, saying: “They have decided on this policy that whosoever dissents or speaks out against Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP, then they will unleash Central agencies on him. Everyone knows this action, in violation of the Constitution, is being done to put pressure on Mr. Raut, to blackmail him.”
(With PTI inputs)