A CBI team leaves after searching the residence of an MLA in Ranchi last year
Ranchi, Feb. 10: Nearly two years after the Rajya Sabha 2012 election cash-for-vote scam and two months after the CBI handed a closure report of the case to Jharkhand High Court, the central agency has reopened the probe on a change of tack.
The wealth of the most enigmatic character in the high drama of Rajya Sabha 2012 elections, JMM bahu and Jama MLA Sita Soren, already accounted for, the CBI is now mounting fresh pressure on the other 22 suspected MLA beneficiaries.
The CBI’s anti-corruption branch, Ranchi, asked income tax department (Bihar-Jharkhand range) to poke and pry into the wealth in cash and kind of 22 MLAs suspected to have made money from then Rajya Sabha MP aspirant duo, Jamshedpur industrialist R.K. Agrawal and Calcutta realtor Pawan Dhoot.
The case, filed under CrPC, Section 173 (8), gives the probe agency the right to reopen it any time it deems so. It now appears the CBI had strategically closed the case in December 2013 for two reasons.
One, jailed Agrawal, charged with buying votes, had been pleading with the Supreme Court for bail, citing “long-drawn investigation had caused him to languish in judicial custody”.
Two, CBI central headquarters had directed its state counterpart to ferret out handlers — aides who handled money on behalf of the MLAs — to prove the legislators had “been bought”.
In the case of Sita, now evading arrest, CBI already got four eye-witnesses-cum-handlers — Vikas Pandey, Vikas Singh, Jaykant Kumar and Mantu Pandey.
The CBI chargesheet on June 4, 2013, at a special CBI court, stated Sita received Rs 2.5 crore from Agrawal a week before the poll.
The next hearing of this case is on February 14, with the CBI framing charges against her, her father B.N. Manjhi, trusted aide Rajendra Mandal, as well as Agrawal, Dhoot and Maheswari, the last two out on bail.
The CBI has also sent a list of 22 other names, their bank details and purchase of property to I-T department to ascertain their sources of income.
I-T department officials will now ascertain the source behind cash, property and costly gifts before and after the March 30, 2012 Rajya Sabha polls.
“We filed a closure report on December 31, 2013, in this case before high court, which stopped monitoring it. But the Rajya Sabha cash-for-vote episode of 2012 is an open-ended case. That’s why we have also informed the court that we can reopen it if new evidence crops up,” said CBI DSP and investigating officer A.K. Jha.
In 2012, the CBI made 70 raids across the country to establish a connection between cash and promised votes. In one raid, the agency recovered Rs 14.25 lakh cash from BJP Rajmahal MLA Arun Kumar Mandal’s home.
In another, at the residence of JMM Jamtara MLA Vishnu Bhaiya, the CBI seized a high-end Toyota vehicle and Rs 4 lakh. Though the MLA claimed a local liquor baron gifted him the four-wheeler, probe revealed a fake company was behind the purchase.
Also, Umakant Rajak, first-time Ajsu MLA, acquired around 12 acres in Bokaro, Ranchi and Dhanbad, naming relatives and a trust in 2012.
There are more names which the CBI doesn’t want to reveal. “When we scrutinised bank details of a JVM MLA, we found Rs 40 lakh deposited in his bank account. Rs 30 lakh were withdrawn a month after the 2012 poll,” a CBI official said.
Now, the CBI wants the I-T department to painstakingly build a solid case against the suspected 22 MLAs based on money links to the infamous March 2012 poll.
The election was countermanded by Election Commission after Income Tax Department and Ranchi police seized Rs 2.15 crore on Ranchi’s outskirts from an SUV belonging to Agrawal’s close relative on the day of voting.