Hemant Soren ‘untraced’ as ED team visits house over land fraud case

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, in an email to the federal agency, has agreed to face second round of ED questioning on January 31 at his official residence in Ranchi in the land scam case

January 29, 2024 09:06 pm | Updated January 30, 2024 10:52 am IST - Patna

Media outside Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s residence where an ED team reached, in New Delhi, on Jan. 29, 2024.

Media outside Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s residence where an ED team reached, in New Delhi, on Jan. 29, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

A team of Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials visited the Delhi residence of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on January 29 for questioning him in connection with a land fraud case. While the ED team, which camped at the house for more than over 12 hours, said the CM could not be located, Mr. Soren sent a letter to the agency saying it is “motivated by political agenda”. 

The ED teams will be at the residence till Mr. Soren returns, the sources said, adding that authorities are also keeping vigilance at the Delhi airport. The ED had questioned Mr. Soren at his official residence in Ranchi on January 20 in connection with the case and had issued fresh summons asking him to confirm his availability for questioning on either January 29 or31, sources said.

Officials of the Central probe agency, accompanied by Delhi Police personnel, reached the CM’s residence at Shanti Niketan in South Delhi around 9 a.m. and were still there after 9 p.m.

“Our team came to the residence of the Chief Minister to question him but he was not here. The ED teams also went to the Jharkhand Bhawan and a few other locations but could not find the Chief Minister,” a source said.

Mr. Soren had left Ranchi for Delhi on January 27, with his party saying on Jan. 29 that he had gone for personal work and will be back. But the Jharkhand unit of the BJP claimed that the Chief Minister has been “absconding” for the last 18 hours fearing action of the ED. It urged Governor C.P. Radhakrishnan to take cognisance of the matter as the “credibility and reputation of Jharkhand are at stake”.

While the Chief Minister’s Office refused to discuss the development, Jharkhand Governor Radhakrishnan said he was keeping a watch on the situation in the State.

Meanwhile, in an email to the federal agency on Jan. 29, Mr. Soren alleged that the issuance of summons to him was “wholly vexatious and in colourable exercise of powers given by the statute”. “Preserve video recording of seven-hour questioning [of January 20] to make available to the Court of Law,” Mr. Soren said, while agreeing to record his statement at his residence at 1 p.m. on January 31.

Citing the upcoming Assembly session scheduled between February 9 and 29, he said under these circumstances, ED’s insistence to record a further statement on or before January 31 “reeks of malice and reveals your political agenda to disrupt the functioning of the state government and prevent an elected representative of the people from discharging his official duties. The undersigned’s apprehensions that your acts are malafide and politically motivated stand vindicated.”

Amid the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) probe into money laundering allegations against the Jharkhand CM, Governor Radhakrishnan asked Mr. Soren to “obey the law enforcement” agencies. He also said that the law-and-order situation is not satisfactory in the State.

“If CM does not respond today, he has to respond tomorrow. I am always stressing that a true citizen must obey a law enforcement force,” said Mr. Radhakrishnan.

Mr. Soren had recorded his statement with the ED after skipping eight summons by the agency. The ED had earlier summoned Mr. Soren on August 14, August 24, September 9, September 23, October 4, December 12, December 29, and January 13, all which Mr. Soren skipped.

The case pertains to alleged purchase and sale of tribal land by forging documents between 2020 and 2022.

Mr. Radhakrishnan also raised concerns on the law-and-order situation in the State with workers of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) holding protests and blocking roads in several districts condemning the ED action.

“The law and order situation is not very satisfactory in the State and I have said this too many times. Action has to be taken. If any situation arises, we will face it,” Mr. Radhakrishnan said.

Asked if he was aware about the ED’s visit to Mr. Soren’s Delhi residence, he said, “I am not the authority for the ED as it has its own higher officials. The Governor is not looking into ED action.”

On Monday, hundreds of JMM workers staged protest marches in front of Raj Bhavan in Ranchi and in Jamshedpur. They also blocked National Highway 33 which led to long queues of vehicles on the highway. After the protest march, security was tightened near the CM house in Ranchi.

Mr. Radhakrishnan however asserted that he is keeping an eye on the developments in the State. “As the custodian of the Constitution, it is the job of the Governor and I am doing it,” said Mr. Radhakrishnan.

JMM general secretary and spokesperson of the party’s central committee Supriyo Bhattacharya said that the Governor’s views are not applicable to any political party.

“He should understand that he is neither a spokesperson of a political party nor can he direct any party. If they [read Bharatiya Janata Party] cannot go to the public [by raising issues], they use the Central agency to harass the Opposition parties,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

Ahead of Lok Sabha election, the Opposition BJP in the State has already launched a campaign against Mr. Soren’s wife Kalpana Soren potentially replacing him as CM in the event of his arrest.

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