MUMBAI: Former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chhagan Bhujbal was granted bail by the Bombay High Court in a money laundering case involving Rs 880 crore on Friday.
Bhujbal was arrested in the case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on March 14, 2016.
The ED had opposed his bail plea last year owing to the possibility of the probe being influenced, after which the plea was turned down by the special PMLA court as well as the High Court. However, after the section 45(1) of the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), that restricted granting of bail to any person booked for the offence and prescribed imprisonment for more than three years, was scrapped by the Supreme Court recently, Bhujbal had moved the bail application to the High Court again on April 2.
Bhujbal’s lawyers contended that he has already been in the jail for over two years under charges that have the provision of maximum punishment of seven years. Also, since the ED has already filed chargesheet and there is no requirement of custodial interrogation Bhujbal should be granted bail, the lawyers had said.
The arguments on the plea were over on Thursday and the court granted him bail on a personal bond of Rs 5 lakh. His passport has been confiscated and he has been asked to remain present for interrogation whenever called. He has also been told not to try influencing the probe and go out of Mumbai without permission from the investigating officer.
Bhujbal was arrested over charges of money laundering. According to the ED chargesheet, while handling the charge of Public Works Department of the Maharashtra government, he received kickbacks in numerous government projects including that of construction of the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi. The amount adds up to around Rs 880 core. Most of the money was parked abroad and routed back to Indian through a web of shell companies spread across the country.
Bhujbal’s nephew Sameer too is in jail along with him under the similar charges. Several of Bhujbal’s Chartered Accountants and financial advisors have been interrogated by the ED while probing the case, while Sameer had blamed some of the CAs for the entire mess.
During his two years in the jail, Bhujbal was admitted to the hospital several times. NCP president Sharad Pawar, in a recent letter written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, had expressed concern over the falling health of 71-year-old Bhujbal.