ED grills Jharkhand CM Soren for over 7 hours, he calls it conspiracy

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Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials arrive at the residence of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren for his questioning in a money laundering case linked to an alleged land scam, in Ranchi, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.

Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials arrive at the residence of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren for his questioning in a money laundering case linked to an alleged land scam, in Ranchi, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.

Ranchi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday interrogated Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren for over seven hours in connection with a money laundering case linked to land deals, following which he claimed that a conspiracy was hatched against him.

ED officers reached Soren's residence, which was virtually turned into a fortress with heavy deployment of security forces, around 1 pm for the interrogation, and left after over seven hours around 8.30 pm.

Soren, 48, who is also the executive president of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), had earlier skipped seven summonses of the ED, and gave his nod for questioning when the eighth summons was sent.

The investigation pertains to a "huge racket of illegal change of ownership of land by the mafia" in Jharkhand, according to the central probe agency.

The ED has so far arrested 14 people in the case, including 2011-batch IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan who served as the director of the state’s Social Welfare Department and deputy commissioner of Ranchi.

Sources said that Soren's questioning was incomplete, and he will be quizzed again.

As the questioning went on inside, his supporters and some tribal outfits demonstrated a few hundreds metres away from his house, alleging that the BJP-led government at the Centre was targeting Soren through agencies such as the ED as he was a tribal.

As the protests went on, security personnel were seen using high-resolution body cameras to keep track of activities around Soren's house. The measure comes in the wake of the attacks on ED officers in neighbouring West Bengal during a raid.

The Ranchi district administration had also imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC near Soren's house, disallowing any demonstration, carrying weapons and public meetings.

Demonstrations similar to the one near Soren's house were held across the state, with the protestors burning effigies of "ED officers" at some places.

As the team of ED officers left his house, the chief minister came out and addressed his supporters.

"A conspiracy was hatched against me, but the final nail in the coffin of the conspirators will be put by us... We will not be scared, your leader will face the bullets first and keep your morale high," he told the JMM workers.

"I extend heartfelt thanks to you for your unflinching support... Hemant Soren will stand behind every party worker," he said.

Soren said he was not like "gajar or mooli" (carrot or radish), which could be uprooted easily, and asked party workers to go door to door and expose the "conspirators" to the people.

As the JMM workers refused to leave even after the address, Soren asked them to return home, with an assurance that he would be meeting them again soon.

Meanwhile, the JMM also convened a meeting of its legislators at the chief minister's residence.

"The ED questioned the CM... We also held our meeting... Any strategy about the future course of action will be made based on the outcome of the questioning," JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya told PTI.

Jamtara MLA Irfan Ansari, who met Soren before the interrogation, said, "The CM, after seeing me, turned emotional and asked us to have patience." As the interrogation was going on, several leaders of the JMM-led ruling coalition and top officers of the state government were present at Soren's residence.

State Congress president Rajesh Thakur said MLAs of his party were there to express solidarity with the CM.

Among the others who were at Soren's residence during that time were Social Welfare Minister Joba Manjhi, JMM Rajya Sabha MP Mahua Maji, state Advocate General Rajiv Ranjan, DGP Ajay Kumar Singh, Ranchi's Deputy Commissioner Rahul Kumar Sinha and SSP Chandan Kumar Sinha.

While the chief minister was being quizzed in one room, the others were waiting in other rooms, officials said.

The BJP alleged that Soren was playing the "victim card" by sponsoring protests across the state.

"The CM should not have been given the privilege of interrogation at his official residence. Soren is scared of being arrested and that is why he did not visit the ED office for questioning," senior BJP leader Amar Bauri told PTI.

State BJP president Babulal Marandi said the ED agreed to Soren's request for questioning at the chief minister's house out of respect for him.

"Now, we hope that the CM will also show generosity and issue an order to the Jharkhand Police today itself that instead of calling any accused to the police station and interrogating him, officers should go to the house of the accused and question," Marandi posted on X.

Soren had filed petitions before the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, seeking protection from the ED action, terming the summonses "unwarranted". Both the courts subsequently dismissed his petitions.

Governor CP Radhakrishnan had earlier this week said that the ED was doing its duty, and the chief minister should provide "right answers" to the agency.

In the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, the ruling coalition has 48 seats -- 29 of the JMM, 17 of the Congress, and one each of the RJD and the Communist Party of India (Marxists-Leninist), while the opposition NDA has 32 seats.