Home / India / 'Witch-hunt': Special court grants bail to Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut

'Witch-hunt': Special court grants bail to Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut

Enforcement Directorate pulled up for arresting the politician for ‘no reason’ and displaying a ‘pick-and choose attitude’
Sanjay Raut
Sanjay Raut
File Photo

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui   |   New Delhi   |   Published 10.11.22, 02:51 AM

A special court in Mumbai on Wednesday granted bail to Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut, a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government, saying the Enforcement Directorate had “illegally” arrested him in a money-laundering case and the action appeared to be a “witch-hunt”.

The court pulled up the central agency for arresting the politician for “no reason” and displaying a “pick-and choose attitude”.


Raut was released from Arthur Road jail in the evening after having spent three months behind bars. He received a  rousing welcome from members of the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena as he waved a saffron scarf.

Soon after the order was pronounced, the ED moved Bombay High Court challenging the lower court’s verdict. The high court agreed to hear the appeal on Thursday but refused to stay Raut’s bail order.

Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP and a close aide of former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, was arrested by the ED on August 1 in connection with alleged financial irregularities in the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl (old row tenement) at suburban Goregaon in Mumbai and related property transactions involving his wife and purported associates.

The ED action on Raut had come at a time Uddhav, the Sena chief, was dethroned as chief minister by a mass defection of MLAs that the BJP was widely believed to have engineered. Hours before the raid at his house and his subsequent arrest, Raut had in an article suggested the BJP had used the ED to blackmail Sena lawmakers into revolting and effecting a change of government in Maharashtra. Parliament was in session when Raut, a Rajya Sabha member, was arrested. 

The ED had alleged that Raut and his family had received “proceeds of crime” worth over Rs 1 crore in connection with the housing redevelopment project. The agency is conducting a probe linked to an alleged Rs 1,034-crore land scam related to the redevelopment of Patra Chawl. In his bail plea before the court, Raut said the ED’s case against him was filed to “crush the opposition faced by the ruling party”. He said he had been a Shiv Sena leader for more than 18 years and the case was a “perfect example of abuse of power and political vendetta”.

“The present applicant (Raut) is only a victim of political change of power and thereby abuse of criminal machinery at the hands of the ruling party,” his bail plea said. On Wednesday, the special court questioned why the main accused, Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan of the real estate firm HDIL, were not arrested by the ED in the case. The court noted that the actions in the case were “nothing but conveying a message to the then Union agriculture minister (Sharad Pawar) and the then chief minister, creating a fear psyche in their mind that they are the next in this queue”. 

The court was referring to the statement of a witness, Chandan Kelekar, who had alleged that two meetings had been held regarding the redevelopment project and they were attended by the then Union agriculture minister and the then chief minister. The court said it was an “astonishing admitted fact that main accused Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan of HDIL... were never arrested by the ED”.

The special judge for cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, M.G. Deshpande, noted that the Wadhawans had been arrested in many other cases filed by the ED and had not been able to secure bail. “However, in the instant case considering the major role attributed to them which they have also admitted, yet ED has not arrested and allowed them to be scot-free, for the reason best known to them,” the judge said.

The ED arrested Sanjay Raut’s aide Pravin Raut purely for a “civil dispute” and Sanjay Raut for “no reasons”, it said. “Basically, there was no reason nor any occasion to arrest both of them under Section 19 of the PMLA for the allegations which are basically nothing but a civil dispute,” the court said, also granting bail to Pravin Raut.  There is absolute - ly nothing to show that Pravin Raut and Sanjay Raut had involved themselves with the redevelopment project “with an intention to fraudulently induce and cheat the MHADA and 672 occupants thereof”, the court said.

The Wadhawans and the HDIL had clearly admitted that their misdeeds caused delay and this was acknowledged by the high court and the MHADA, the judge said, adding that the ED ignored all this.  Sanjay  Raut  had sought time to appear before the ED when it summoned him, but this could not be the reason to arrest him, said the court.

“Therefore, I am of the firm opinion that the arrest of both accused is basically illegal without any qualifications required under the provisions of the PML Act,” the court said. It also referred to  Sanjay  Raut’s plea that he had undergone angioplasty twice and that he had been kept in a room where there was no ventilation.

“It is only... due to court intervention he could get a room with some ventilation in ED custody. All this prima facie indicates that his arrest is nothing but a witch-hunt and annihilation of his valuable rights,” the judge said. The court also said there were no “proceeds of crime” in the case that could have attracted the PMLA. It said “the extraordinary pace with which the ED arrests accused persons” turns into “not even a snail’s speed in conducting trials”.

(Additional reporting by PTI)

Copyright © 2020 The Telegraph. All rights reserved.