MUMBAI: Former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Chhagan Bhujbal, who is accused in an Rs 870-crore money laundering case, spent Monday night at the office of the Enforcement Directorate. The sleepless night, without a bed, apparently infuriated him so much that he threatened the investigating agency’s officials.
“He openly threatened one of our officials with dire consequences if he is lodged in jail for long,” an ED official said, adding, “He did not show remorse nor was he depressed. Instead, he kept pointing fingers at his nephew Sameer (for alleged money laundering).” On Tuesday, a special court set up under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act remanding Bhujbal in ED custody till Thursday.
Bhujbal’s arrest, as expected, rocked the Maharashtra Legislature as members of his party, NCP, as well as the Congress alleged “political vendetta” by the state government. Senior NCP legislator Jayant Patil said there was no need to arrest Bhujbal as he was cooperating in the investigation. “The arrest was justified if the court had ordered so after filing of the chargesheet. Bhujbal is being targeted. His arrest is part of a larger conspiracy to destroy the NCP’s leadership,” he alleged.
Former CM Prithviraj Chavan seconded Patil. “His arrest is unwarranted. The ED is investigating whether some money was laundered in this case. The investigation does not require someone to be put behind bars,” he said.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis clarified that the government had no role in the action taken against Bhujbal. “If corruption has taken place in the state, the law will take its own course. How can one expect the government to be lenient against the corrupt?” he asked.
Bhujbal stands accused of receiving kickbacks in lieu of awarding a contract to construct the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi and diverting the money (bribe) to a coal mine in Indonesia and investing some money in real estate companies run by his family. The PMLA prescribes rigorous imprisonment from three to seven years in case an individual is found guilty of money laundering.
As per the ED, the Bhujbals pumped in a large sum of money into shell companies floated by Sameer and Pankaj (Chhagan’s son). The agency tracked over a dozen Kolkata-based companies which bought shares in companiesof the Bhujbals. The money was then channeled through various companies to start real estate projects in the city. Neither Bhujbal nor Sameer were in a position to elaborate on the source of the money they had invested in these companies.
NCP leader blames Vilasrao deshmukh
Contesting claims that he granted the contracts he is accused of having received kickbacks for, Chhagan Bhujbal on Tuesday told a local court that he was merely following orders given by then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh. “CM Vilasrao Deshmukh told me to hold meetings and I followed that,” he said.