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CBI heat on Sita’s dad over kidnap

- Officers to question victim today

Ranchi, May 2: The CBI, probing the Vikas Pandey kidnap case involving JMM’s Jama MLA and bahu of Jharkhand’s First Family Sita Soren, will name her father B.N. Manjhi as a co-accused.

Formerly Sita’s aide, Pandey fell foul of her and Manjhi when he became a key CBI witness against her in the March 2012 cash-for-vote scam during Rajya Sabha MP elections, passing critical information to the sleuths on Jamshedpur industrialist and MP aspirant R.K. Agrawal’s deal to buy her vote.

A team of CBI officials from its Patna wing, led by investigating officer Rajesh Kumar, has been camping in Ranchi since last week. This morning, the team photographed locations to establish the sequence of Pandey’s kidnap.

Pandey, whom the CBI team questioned last week in Ranchi, will again be quizzed tomorrow. “We have made progress in this case and want to finish it soon,” CBI joint director (Bihar-Jharkhand) A.K. Singh said.

Pandey was allegedly kidnapped on the evening of December 24, 2012, by Sita’s bodyguards when he was with his friend Manoj Kumar, detained at her official Dhurwa home and roughed up by many, including Manjhi.

After a dramatic rescue the same night prompted by his wife Rina Devi who marshalled her relatives and friends into protest in front of the Dhurwa residence, Pandey was rescued before policemen of three stations Argora, Dhurwa and Jagannathpur, as well as mediapersons. In his statement at Argora police station, he said Manjhi hit him with a balla (cricket bat), instigated others to beat him and hurled abuses.

Manjhi, a retired Indian Oil official posted in Odisha for the greater part of his career, and who is known to exert great influence on daughter Sita, is absconding. Named as an accused in the 2012 horse-trading case along with Sita, he faces a permanent arrest warrant issued by the CBI court of R.K. Choudhary.

Sita, in judicial custody at Birsa Munda Central Jail for the horse-trading case, had sought interim relief from the Supreme Court for the Pandey kidnap case last year.

The Pandey kidnap case gained momentum in February 2014 when Jharkhand High Court professed unhappiness over how Ranchi police had been handling it and ordered the CBI to take over.

“True, Ranchi police tried to weaken the case,” said a senior CBI official. “But, Manjhi will be deemed an accused in the kidnap case as our probe so far has established his role. We are not going by the investigations done by Ranchi police, which apparently did not find any role of Manjhi. In fact, statements of a key witness were presented so vaguely (by police) that even Sita would have been easily absolved of all charges,” he added.

The CBI has taken statement of witness Manoj, Pandey’s friend, also a Jharkhand police jawan. He told the CBI that Sita had ordered her bodyguards to bundle Pandey into an SUV. The identity of her bodyguards has been established.

Manoj, in his previous statement to Ranchi police, had said Pandey was kidnapped by unknown persons and denied seeing Sita.

The CBI team has added five new witnesses to strengthen its case, including CBI DSP A.K. Jha who is investigating horse-trading case. Jha apparently had come to know from sources about the kidnap, but when he phoned senior police brass, no one responded.