The law enforcement branch on Friday conducted raids at 18 locations in four states, including premises linked to Jharkhand mines secretary Pooja Singhal, as part of its investigation into a money laundering case involving the alleged embezzlement of MGNREGA funds.
According to the ED, raids were carried out in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Punjab, and unearthed various documents regarding assets and properties allegedly linked to Singhal. Emergency sources said they included a multi-specialty hospital in Ranchi.
The agency also recovered Rs 18 crore in cash from the house of a Ranchi-based chartered accountant believed to be linked to Singhal, the sources said.
The probe relates to a case filed five years ago, but the raids come at a time when Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren faces corruption charges for allegedly awarding a mining lease in his favor and land to his wife.
The raids come a day after the Electoral Commission sent a notice to Hemant Soren’s brother and MP Dumka Basant Soren on the mining lease issue. The Commission had earlier sent a notice to the Chief Minister seeking his position on the charges.
Singhal was unavailable for comment. Chief Minister Soren called the raids “empty threats”. “When they (the BJP) can’t counter you on the political battlefield, then they use their machinery,” he said.
The case is based on a 2017 FIR registered by the Anti-Corruption Bureau against a junior engineer, identified as Ram Binod Prasad Sinha, for alleged embezzlement of public funds to the tune of Rs 18.06 crore between 2008 and 2011 – and having invested it in his name and those of his family members while in service.
Subsequently, the ED seized assets worth over Rs 4.8 crore belonging to Sinha and filed two prosecution complaints (indictments) against him in 2020.
In his statement filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002, Sinha claimed that he paid five percent of the cost of an MGNREGA project as a commission to his superiors in the engineering section. and five percent in administration, including the DC office in Khunti.
Sinha also said in the statement that no commission is paid directly to DC and that “it is supported from five percent commission given for district administration.” He had stated that Singhal was acting as DC of Khunti district at the time.
During its investigation, the ED claimed that it found that no action was taken against Sinha during Singhal’s tenure as DC.
An IAS officer in Jharkhand in 2000, Singhal has served in several high-level positions, from agriculture secretary in the former BJP government to tourism and industries secretary in the current JMM-led government. Her husband, Abhishek Jha, is the Managing Director of Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Private Hospital.