The special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court yesterday granted judicial custody to former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal till March 31, after turning down the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) request for police custody, to interrogate Bhujbal further and confront him with the accused.
Bhujbal being taken to the special PMLA court yesterday. Pic/PTI
ED had sought seven more days of custody for Bhujbal, but judge P R Bhavke of the special PMLA court sent the senior NCP leader in judicial custody till March 31, saying “sufficient ground was not made out for further remand.” Bhujbal, arrested on March 14, will be lodged in the high-security Arthur Road jail now.
ED’s lawyer Hiten Vinegaokar asked for a seven-day custody, telling the court that the crucial part of investigation – which was supposed to be carried out yesterday – could not be completed since Bhujbal kept complaining about his health. As per Bhujbal’s request, doctors from JJ Hospital and St George Hospital were called to check on him. They opined saying he is fit and fine.
Vinegaokar also told court that they have confronted Bhujbal with other witnesses, namely Sunil Naik and Amit Balraj and the other accused, his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. “In his statement, Amit has said he was threatened by Bhujbal to sign on certain papers. We couldn’t get sufficient time to investigate, so we sought a seven-day custody.”
ED argued it needed Bhujbal’s further remand because he was to be confronted with statements of witnesses and he had refused to cooperate. When he was informed that there was to be a face-to-face confrontation (meeting) with the witnesses, he complained of restlessness.
When the judge asked Bhujbal if he has any complaints, he narrated how the ED had not recorded his statements, even after he woke up at 7.30 am to do so. He said the ED started interrogating him only after 9.30 am.
At 11.30, Bhujbal said he asked them to confront him with whomever they wished to, but they didn’t. “Everyone was just sitting and ED was busy with their own work. I told them we have to go to court today so why are you delaying?” Bhujbal said.
He added, “These are all lies and concocted stories. I have not pressurized anyone, neither have I instructed anyone to do anything.”
Countering allegations against Bhujbal, his lawyer Prasad Dhakephalkar argued that Bhujbal is 69-years-old and suffers from chronic asthma and is not a 25-year-old man who will not have any health problem. Dhakephalkar said Bhujbal has given certificates about his illness.
“Why has ED not mentioned this Rs 200 crore earlier even after having so much time to investigate? According to the investigators, the 69-year-old accused complaining about his health is a waste of time.” Dhakephalkar said, adding that the court should grant judicial custody, as there is nothing in the remand copy.
ED in its remand application said that statements of certain individuals closely connected with MET and business activities of the Bhujbals were recorded on Wednesday and they confirmed that huge cash was paid to market operators at MET office by Sameer Bhujbal, Chhagan Bhujbal’s nephew.
The firms controlled by Sameer conducted no genuine businesses so as to generate such huge revenues and only he and Bhujbal can explain the source of these funds, ED said. The witnesses also told the agency that Bhujbal visited the MET office in Mumbai once or twice a month and he was aware of all the business activities Sameer looked after.
Whenever cash was brought to the MET office, Sameer told Bhujbal about it if he was present. Bhujbal was also aware of all the real estate purchases by the firms controlled by him, it said.
It is yet to investigate why contractors involved in Maharashtra Sadan, RTO office and Kalina library projects made huge donations to Chhagan Bhujbal foundation and, if needed, it would hold face-to-face confrontation, the ED said. ED also said it had found evidence of cash generation of almost R200 crore and it was necessary to interrogate him to find its source/mode of cash generation.
Meanwhile, Superintendent of Arthur Road jail, BM Bhosale said Bhujbal was brought to the ArthurRoad jail at 6.30 pm and he has been kept in a secured barrack. “Bhujbal and Sameer will not be in the same barrack.” Sameer, as per sources is lodged in the first floor cell in the high security yard where Abu Jundal is also lodged.
— Inputs from Agencies