Jharkhand MNREGA scam: SC grants protection from arrest to husband of suspended IAS officer

The Supreme Court has granted protection from arrest to Abhishek Jha, the husband of suspended Jharkhand cadre IAS officer Pooja Singhal, in a money laundering case arising out of the alleged MNREGA scam in the state.

The court’s decision came after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said he may be given the relief to look after the medical needs of his daughter.

Singhal, a 2000-batch IAS officer, is the main accused in the alleged scam involving embezzlement of public funds of Rs 18.07 crore when she was the deputy commissioner of Khunti district.

A bench of justices S K Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted that Singhal, who was earlier released in view of her daughter’s medical needs, is already in custody.

“Since the petitioner husband was available to look after the medical needs of the child, this court, for the time being, asked the wife to surrender and she has surrendered,” the bench said.

“ASG (additional solicitor general appearing for the ED) fairly submits that in view of the custody of the wife, in order to look after the medical needs of the daughter who requires medical attention, the petitioner (Jha) may be protected against arrest, more so, as he is also running a speciality hospital. We take the aforesaid statement on record and dispose of the petition,” the bench said in its order passed on July 5.

The top court passed the order while hearing Jha’s plea challenging the May 18 order of the Jharkhand High Court denying him anticipatory bail in the case.

“Needless to say that the petitioner (Jha) will be appearing before the court where the complaint has been filed,” the bench said, while disposing of the plea.

On June 23, his plea had come up for hearing before a vacation bench of the apex court which had refused to grant him anticipatory bail and posted the matter for hearing on July 5.

On May 18, the high court had dismissed his anticipatory bail plea and asked him to surrender before the court in four weeks.

“As held by the Supreme Court, in offences under PMLA rigors of Section 45, will apply. Considering the magnitude of crime involving proceeds of crime to the tune of crores with evidence of it being carefully layered and laundered through investments, materials on record, risk of flight and for the plea taken on behalf of the ED, I do not find this a case fit for grant of anticipatory bail,” Justice Gautam Kumar Chaudhary of the high court had said while rejecting his bail application.

According to the prosecution, Jha’s fortunes soared after his marriage to Singhal, and ill-gotten cash, allegedly the proceeds of crime generated by the officer through corrupt practices, began flowing into his bank accounts.

Jha has claimed the money was his legitimate income from his job in Australia.

The high court had noted in its order that Jha got married to Singhal in June 2011.

The high-profile IAS officer was posted as the deputy commissioner of Khunti district from February 16, 2009, to July 19, 2010.

“Large scale embezzlement of public funds was detected and 16 FIRs were lodged detailed in para 1.6 of the prosecution complaint in the district of Khunti where Pooja Singhal was the deputy commissioner at the relevant time. The total amount alleged to have been embezzled as per the 16 FIRs were to the tune of Rs 18.06 crore. In all the 16 FIRs, charge sheets were filed against Ram Binod Prasad Sinha, RK Jain and others,” the HC order said.

It said the investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) unearthed proceeds of crime in various layers of money laundering, and properties worth Rs 4.28 crore, including the interest on these properties were attached.

The order referred to the search and seizure operations at nearly 30 premises linked to Singhal and her associates in Ranchi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Faridabad, Gurugram and Muzaffarpur during which cash totalling Rs 19.76 crore was seized, besides incriminating documents and digital devices.

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The high court recorded the main case against Singhal related to the period when she was the deputy commissioner of Khunti during which she allegedly connived with the engineers of the special division and the district board, and embezzled Rs 18.06 crore.

Referring to the allegations against Jha, the court cited Singhal’s chartered accountant Suman Kumar, who claimed he was making investments on behalf of his wife.

Singhal has been accused of setting up Pulse Sanjeevani hospital in Ranchi with her husband to launder her ill-gotten wealth.

Jha has claimed in his statement made under section 50 of PMLA that the source of infusion of money in Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Pvt Ltd was his savings from the job in Australia, and gifts that he received during his wedding ceremonies.

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