An emotional Chhagan Bhujbal told the court he was hurt by the allegations and that he has served the state for 50 years
There was high drama in the Sessions court yesterday, as an emotional Chhagan Bhujbal stepped into the dock to counter allegations of his involve ment in scams worth Rs 870 crore.
Bhujbal leaves St George Hospital after a medical test. Pic/Shadab Khan
“These are all lies. They are trapping us to settle political scores. I have served this state for so many years. Is it a crime to do good work? I feel hurt,” said the 68-year-old, who was teary eyed at one point during his 10-minute testimony.
“How can I gain Rs 800 crores from a Rs 100-crore project? This is politics; they have cooked up the story. I was in Washington when Samir Bhujbal was arrested but I did not run away. I came back,” Bhujbal told the court.
The former deputy CM and PWD minister stands accused of receiving kickbacks for favouring contractors while assigning government contracts, including the infamous Maharashtra Sadan scam. He was produced in court at 4 pm yesterday, when the Special Enforcement Directorate lawyer Hiten Venegavkar argued for three days of custody and said that even though Bhujbal had given a statement, he did not give satisfactory answers to many of their questions, such as why he held meetings regarding the Maharashtra Sadan when it was not his portfolio.
“He says he held meetings as he was deputy CM, but that answer is unsatisfactory. He has not given us information regarding his relationship with the contractor and a sub-contractor, Origin Infrastructure. He is not cooperating with the officers,” Venegavkar said.
On the other hand, Bhujbal’s lawyer Prasad Dhakephalkar argued there was no need for further custody. “Why do they want police custody in a money laundering case when cases like this come into the picture only after the investigation is completed. In two matters, chargesheet has been filed after completing investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act,” he said, adding that the High Court had asked for an open inquiry and did not give instructions to file an FIR.
The defence lawyer further said, “Their investigation said Samir Bhujbal (the nephew) is the kingpin of money laundering. They want to arrest one after the other, as it looks good in, like the state government is doing something. They came to power and started making allegations. You could not find out money trail from Sameer Bhujbal so now you expect an old man to tell you that.”
Dhakephalkar also informed the court that Bhujbal suffers from several ailments, including ischemic heart disease, asthma and hypertension. Bhujbal was also spotted using his asthma pump twice during the hearing.
The ED lawyer contested both points. “The entire investigation was monitored by the High Court. How can it be politically motivated? Also we have carried out a medical examination before bringing him to court and it states that he is fine. We have to confront the accused with the other accused, that is Samir Bhujbal and MET employee Amit Balraj and other persons who have given statements.”
The judge PR Bhavke heard both sides and extended Bhujbal’s custody till March 17.
Special ED lawyer Hiten Venegavkar argued that the money was being laundered through the Mumbai Educational Trust (MET), but even though Chhagan Bhujbal is the chairman, he claimed ignorance.
“Entire cash flow took place through MET Institution but the accused, in spite of being the chairman, says he does not know anything. This is unbelievable,” he said in court, adding, “Statement of Amit Balraj, a former employee of MET, has disclosed how the cash transactions transpired at MET. Even confronted by this, Chhagan said he doesn’t know anything.”
The prosecutor further said the MET employee disclosed that he saw 1,000-rupee notes being brought in and counted with counting machines at MET premises and each bag would contain around a crore. “Web of companies and money trail has been established. Hawala operators have been used to route cash generated through cheques,” said the lawyer.
Around 5:45 pm, after the arguments from both sides, Bhujbal stepped into the witness box and spoke for around 10 minutes. “I am a victim of politics. I have not done anything. I have answered all questions; if I don’t know the answers to few questions it doesn’t mean I am not cooperating. I have been in politics for 50 years. I held meetings as there was an issue with an RTO building not progressing and the then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh asked me to look into it. I did not give any contract. All departments examined it; they all passed the proposal. This is the first Maharashtra Sadan built under SRA. The government gained from this. With a land worth Rs 33 crore, we got work worth Rs 100 crore done.”