Former Jharkhand CM Soren tells SC

NEW DELHI: Former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that his arrest was “wrong” and there was no basis for the Enforcement Directorate ( ED) invokes the PMLA against him.

A bench of judges, Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma, were hearing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader’s plea seeking interim bail.

The court asked Soren if a court could examine the legality of his arrest after the trial court took cognizance of the complaint filed by the ED in the money laundering case against him linked to an alleged scam land.

“There is an order from the judicial forum which says that an offense has been committed. We have been called to ascertain whether the arrest was justified on the basis of the available materials. You (Sibal) must persuade us that despite these two orders (rejecting bail), “we can examine the legality of the arrest,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who defended the JMM leader, informed the court.

Sibal argued that no offense has been established under the PMLA as illegal possession of land is not an offense under the law.

“I am arrested on January 31, 2024, and there is nothing against me till that date to invoke PMLA against me. No offense is made out even if whatever they (ED) say is accepted. Illegal possession of land is not an offense under the list of crimes “I say that the arrest itself is wrong because all the elements in possession do not warrant an arrest,” Sibal said.

Objecting to Sibal’s arguments, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju, who represented the ED, said Soren was in illegal possession since 2009-10. He argued that Soren does not hold title to the 8.86 acres and his name does not appear in any records, but his possession of the land constitutes an offense.

Raju also claimed that Soren’s case was different from that of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was granted interim bail on May 10 for campaigning in the general elections. He said the trial court took cognizance of the prosecution’s complaint, the equivalent of an ED indictment, on April 4 after concluding that a prima facie case was made out against Soren .

Vehemently objecting to the ED’s accusations against Soren that he had acquired the land forcefully, Sibal maintained that everything was “concocted” and “fabricated by them (ED)”.

Sibal also questioned the ED’s claim that the JMM leader had forcibly occupied the land in 2009-2010, pointing out that no proceedings were initiated against him before April 20, 2023. He noted that no complaints or measures had been taken between 2010 and 2023.

The senior counsel also argued that there was no basis for invoking Section 19 of the PMLA and this had to be determined on the basis of the material existing on the date of Soren’s arrest on 31 January.

“I am innocent in this case and am requesting bail due to the ongoing elections,” Soren’s lawyer argued.

The SC court, which referred the matter for further hearing on Wednesday, asked Soren’s lawyer to first convince the court how interim bail can be granted to him for poll campaigning of Lok Sabha when his application for regular bail was rejected. Soren’s lawyer asked until Wednesday to answer the court’s questions.

The JMM leader had moved the Supreme Court to challenge his arrest in the case after his plea was rejected. Soren has been in jail since his arrest by the ED on January 31 in connection with his alleged involvement in a money laundering case.

On May 13, Soren referred to the top court’s order granting interim bail to Kejriwal in the money laundering case against him linked to the alleged Delhi excise scam and sought identical relief for himself. In his appeal filed by advocate Praghya Baghel, the JMM leader said the High Court erred in rejecting his plea.

Soren also maintained his innocence in the matter, arguing that he was neither involved in the money laundering case nor in “any illegal acts.”

(With inputs from PTI)