Jammu- Former Jammu and Kashmir minister Lal Singh was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate here on Tuesday, hours after an anti-corruption court dismissed his anticipatory bail application in a money laundering case, officials said.
Singh was under investigation by the federal agency as part of the case lodged under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against an educational trust run by his wife and former legislator Kanta Andotra, they said.
Choudhary Lal Singh, the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party (DSSP) chairman, was arrested from a house in the Chawadi area of Sainik Colony on the outskirts of the city in the evening, an official said.
The official also said that the former minister tried his best to “dodge” the agency and “evade arrest”.
Hearing the news of Singh’s arrest, a group of his supporters, led by Andotra, assembled outside the ED office in Narwal and tried to enter but were prevented by CRPF personnel.
Andotra started weeping, asking for permission to meet her husband.
Police reinforcements have been rushed to the scene to maintain law and order, officials said.
Singh, a two-time MP and three-time MLA, switched from the Congress to the BJP in 2014 and was also a minister in the previous PDP-BJP government in Jammu and kashmir which collapsed in June 2018 after the national party pulled out of the alliance.
Several months before the fall of the government, Singh resigned from the BJP and floated the DSSP following an uproar over his participation in a rally held in support of the accused in a rape and murder case involving an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in January 2018.
He, however, defended his participation in the rally, claiming that he was there to “defuse the situation”.
Earlier in the day, as Singh’s bail application was rejected by the anti-corruption court in Jammu, his wife and their daughter Kranti Singh were granted relief as their interim anticipatory bail was extended till November 30 with a directive to cooperate with the investigation agency without fail.
Special judge Bala Jyoti passed three separate orders after hearing the arguments put forth by special public prosecutor Ashwani Khajuria, appearing for the ED, and advocate Rajesh Kotwal for the applicants.
Singh, his wife and their daughter moved separate applications in the court on November 1, seeking pre-arrest bail for the alleged commission of offences under the PMLA. The court had then granted them interim bail and sought a detailed response from the ED.
Singh was questioned by the ED on Saturday and Monday. Scores of his supporters led by his wife held protests outside the agency headquarters on both days against the BJP, claiming that he was being framed deliberately in the case.
Last month, the ED had conducted searches in Jammu and its adjoining areas as part of the money laundering probe against the educational trust of Andotra and a former government official in connection with alleged irregularities in land purchase to set up the trust.
The federal agency had raided about eight premises in Jammu, Kathua and Punjab’s Pathankot on October 17 in the case against the RB Educational Trust, its chairperson and Ravinder S, a former revenue official.
The money laundering case stems from an October 2021 charge sheet filed by the CBI in this case which alleged criminal connivance in the issuance of land between January 4 and January 7, 2011, without mentioning details in respect of violation of the ceiling limit of 100 standard kanals imposed under Section 14 of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, thereby giving undue pecuniary advantage to trust.
Based on this, the trust acquired multiple pieces of land of about 329 kanals through three gift deeds executed on January 5 and January 7, 2011, the CBI charge sheet claimed.
Agreeing with the arguments of SPP Khujuria, the judge said, “Having heard and regard to the nature of allegations and gravity of the accusation and stage of investigation, to my mind the investigating agency must be given sufficient time in conducting an analyzed and effective investigation.”
“Thus in view of the above, said applicant/petitioner (Lal Singh) is no more entitled to concession of bail at this stage as the same would hamper the ongoing investigation. It must be reminded that pre-arrest bail was granted to the applicant for a limited period on certain conditions including extension of co-operation to the investigating agency,” the 10-page order read.
The court said the PMLA gives unfettered powers to the ED for search, seizure and investigation as “evil of money laundering is a curse and has its diverse impact on the society and its citizens. Money laundering is a serious threat not only to the financial system of our country but also to the global economy at large which is required to be dealt sternly”.
Dismissing the bail application of the former minister, the judge said the allegations being grave and serious in nature against the petitioner, this court is not inclined to grant privilege of bail which stands rejected being devoid of any legal force at this stage.
With regard to the application moved by Andotra, a former legislator, the court said the petitioner already is on absolute bail in the CBI charge sheet which is the fountainhead of the predicate offence.
“Besides PMLA terms can be eased for illness and for women…the (interim) bail is extended till November 30 as investigation is still going on and petitioner is directed to co-operate with the investigating agency without any fail,” the order said.
Similarly, the court extended the interim bail of their daughter Kranti Singh, one of the trustees of the educational trust, till November 30 with directions not to flout conditions of the bail that included cooperating with the investigating agency without any fail.
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