Jharkhand MNREGA scam: SC refuses pre-arrest bail to suspended IAS officer’s husband

 The Supreme Court on Friday refused to grant anticipatory bail 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.

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

A vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and M M Sundresh declined to grant relief to Jha and posted the matter for hearing on July 5.

Jha has challenged the May 18 order of the Jharkhand High Court denying him bail in the case.

His lawyer had earlier mentioned the matter seeking an urgent hearing.

On May 18, the high court had dismissed the anticipatory bail plea of Jha and had 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 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 has 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 Puja 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 DC 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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