* On July 3, as the new alliance in Maharashtra moved to get its Speaker candidate elected, chants of “ED, ED” rose from the Opposition. The slogans were a bid to amplify allegations that the Shiv Sena faction led by Eknath Shinde had joined hands with the BJP out of fear of the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
* On August 21, BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh claimed that the Centre had sent ED to probe various cases against TMC leaders in West Bengal since the CBI’s probes were moving too slowly.
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THESE TWO episodes, straddling two key states in two separate regions, frame the rising perception across political parties that the “ED is now the new CBI” — from being the first off the blocks to probe cases with political overtones to taking coercive action before any other Central agency makes a move.
An investigation by The Indian Express of court records, agency statements and reports of politicians booked, arrested, raided or questioned by the ED over the past 18 years reveals that the new label is not off the mark — as many as 147 key politicians were probed by the agency during this period and over 85 per cent were from Opposition ranks.
It’s a pattern that mirrors the CBI’s casebook. On Tuesday, The Indian Express reported that in those 18 years, spanning the governments of Congress and BJP, over 80 per cent of the close to 200 politicians that the CBI has booked, arrested, raided or questioned were from the Opposition.
The similarities don’t end there.
The ED casebook, too, shows a sharp uptick in the number of Opposition politicians, and their close relatives, who have come under its scanner since the NDA-II government came to power in 2014. The investigation shows that 121 prominent politicians have been under ED probe since that year, of whom the agency booked, raided, questioned or arrested as many as 115 Opposition leaders — 95 per cent, and that, too, with a staff strength that is less than one-third of the CBI.
This is in sharp contrast to the agency’s casebook in the UPA regime (2004 to 2014) – only 26 political leaders in all were probed by the agency. These included 14 from the Opposition (54 per cent).
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The significant increase in ED cases is mainly attributed to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), a law that has been strengthened since it came into force in 2005. With stringent bail conditions, its provisions now grant the agency powers to arrest, and attach properties and assets, of the accused — and make a statement recorded before an investigating officer admissible in a court as evidence.
The Opposition has raised the ED issue multiple times in Parliament, alleging they were being disproportionately targeted by the agency, most recently during the monsoon session. It is a charge that the Government and the ED have strongly denied with agency officials saying that its action is non-political and arises from cases first registered by other agencies or the state police.
The list of political leaders being probed by ED since 2004 is on indianexpress.com. Leaders have been listed under the political parties to which they belonged, along with the posts they held, when the ED initiated action against them.
An analysis shows telling patterns:
* Consider the partywise break-up of the Opposition in the ED’s net since 2014: Congress (24), TMC (19), NCP (11), Shiv Sena (8), DMK (6), BJD (6), RJD (5), BSP (5), SP (5), TDP (5), AAP (3), INLD (3), YSRCP (3), CPM (2), NC (2), PDP (2), Ind (2), AIADMK (1), MNS (1), SBSP (1) and TRS (1).
Under the UPA, the CBI was accused of initiating cases against potential allies of the Congress, such as SP and BSP, and then going slow on them after their support was achieved. Under NDA-II, the ED has drawn fire for allegedly going slow on cases against Opposition politicians who switched sides.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, now Assam Chief Minister, was investigated by the CBI and the ED in 2014 and 2015 over the Saradha chit fund scam when he was part of the Congress. The CBI raided his house and office in 2014, and even questioned him. However, following his entry into the BJP, there has been no reported development in the case.
Similarly, then TMC leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy had been put under scanner by the CBI and the ED in the Narada sting operation case. Adhikari and Roy joined the BJP before the West Bengal polls last year, and the cases against them have not seen any significant development. Though ED has chargesheeted four TMC leaders, the two, along with some other TMC leaders, have not yet been named due to lack of sanction from the authorities concerned. Roy has now returned to the TMC.
The ED was also the first agency to conduct searches on the premises of then TDP MP Y S Chowdary and attach his assets in early 2019. Months later, Chowdary joined the BJP. The ED, however, chargesheeted him later.
The ED has also been at the forefront in building cases against the Gandhi family, with Rahul Gandhi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi facing a probe in the National Herald case after a Delhi court took cognizance of a private complaint by BJP’s Subramanian Swamy. The agency was the first to raid a company associated with Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, questioning him multiple times in a money laundering case.
Besides, the agency has pursued former finance minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti in connection with the Aircel Maxis case. Its probe has resulted into two more cases — the INX Media case and the “bribes for visa” case — against the Chidambarams.
The ED has also moved against relatives of senior politicians who have been accused of corruption and money laundering.
* Under NDA-II, at least six relatives and family members of key Congress politicians, including Kamal Nath, Capt Amarinder Singh and the Gandhi family, have been placed under probe. Kerala CPI(M) leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son is also facing an ED probe. On Monday, Capt Amarinder Singh joined the BJP.
In July 2020, as the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan faced a revolt by the then deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, the ED raided premises associated with Gehlot’s brother, Agrasen, in connection with a probe into alleged diversion of fertilisers in 2007-09.
At the same time, records also show that the ED booked BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal’s brother-in-law Lalit Goyal of the Ireo Group for allegedly defrauding investors and home buyers.
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The other senior Opposition politicians facing probes under NDA-II include D K Shivakumar from Karnataka; former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda; and, the late Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel, who was Sonia’s aide.
This list also includes over a dozen prominent TMC politicians, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee. Then, there are NCP leaders Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar, Anil Deshmukh, Nawab Malik and Praful Patel; Shiv Sena leaders such as Sanjay Raut and Anil Parab; and, former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad and his family.
* During the UPA regime, prominent BJP politicians under the ED scanner included BJP’s Gali Janardhan Reddy, Laxmikant Sharma (Vyapam case) and former Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa. The list also included TMC politicians Sudip Bandopadhyay (Rose Valley chit fund case), and Kunal Ghosh, Srinjoy Bose, Madan Mitra, Arpita Ghosh, Mukul Roy and Tapas Paul (Saradha case).
Under the UPA, the ED moved against Congress politicians such as former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan (Adarsh housing case), Suresh Kalmadi (Commonwealth Games case) and Naveen Jindal (coal blocks case). The agency also took action against UPA ally DMK’s A Raja and Kanimozhi (2G case), and Dayanidhi Maran and Kalanithi Maran (Aircel-Maxis case).
When asked by The Indian Express to explain the skew against the Opposition, the ED declined to comment. But an agency official said: “The ED is the last agency you can accuse of political bias as it cannot register cases on its own. Only after a politician is booked by a state police or any central agency can the ED register a case of money laundering. We are also probing many BJP politicians. A fresh case against Gali Janardhan Reddy was initiated after the Modi Government came to power.”
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The official said, “Also, we register cases after proper scrutiny. All our chargesheets are being taken cognizance of by the courts. The accused are unable to secure bail because courts are not convinced of their innocence.”
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The official added, “Of the 21 cases of money laundering in which trial has been completed, we have achieved convictions in 18, with 30 people having been convicted and sentenced. Our conviction rate is higher than that of the CBI.”
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd