The Supreme Court has refused to hear Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren‘s petition against an Enforcement Directorate summons in relation to money laundering charges against him. A bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Bela M Trivedi directed Mr Soren – who had demanded the central probe agency back down or face legal action – was directed to his state’s High Court.
Appearing for the Chief Minister, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi claimed a “witch hunt” against his client but he was quickly shut down. “Mr Rohatgi… why don’t you go to the (Jharkhand) High Court? No no, go to the High Court… we will permit you to withdraw (the petition),” the bench said.
The matter was therefore dismissed as withdrawn.
The Chief Minister had been told to appear for questioning on September 23 over allegations of money laundering related to sale of land in Ranchi. He had filed a plea in the Supreme Court challenging this summons and then alleged the calls were continuing despite the pending case.
In his application to the court today, the Chief Minister said the “repeated summons (were) issued to threaten, humiliate and intimidate him” and claimed that these were “politically motivated”.
He said the summons, apart from being “derogatory, illegal and unfair”, also undermined the office he holds, as they are addressed to the ‘Chief Minister of Jharkhand’ and not to him directly.
Mr Soren also said “targeting of opposition leaders” had “picked up pace” ahead of elections this year and the next and after the formation of INDIA, which includes his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
The Chief Minister and other opposition leaders frequently allege the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party uses central investigative agencies, like the Enforcement Directorate, to target and harass political rivals, noting that cases seem to disappear once the politicians being investigated join the BJP.
Last month the Enforcement Directorate had asked Mr Soren to join its investigation.
However, he wrote back indicating he had provided the necessary documents – including details of movable and immovable assets to the Central Bureau of Investigation, in connection with another inquiry – and invited the central agency to refer to those papers if it needed any further information.
Mr Soren had skipped an earlier summons citing pre-scheduled events. In November last year he was grilled by the Enforcement Directorate for over nine hours in the case linked to illegal mining.
Asked about skipping the summons, Mr Soren pointed to what he said was short notice from the agency. “Are we thieves or anti-socials?” he asked while speaking to NDTV.
Mr Soren – who also heads Jharkhand’s mining ministry – has been accused of violating poll rules by giving himself a lease. He has denied the charges and alleged a conspiracy to “harass a tribal leader”.