Jharkhand’s MNREGA scam: Husband of suspended IAS officer moves SC for pre-arrest bail in money laundering case

Abhishek Jha, the husband of suspended Jharkhand cadre IAS officer Pooja Singhal, has approached the Supreme Court for anticipatory bail 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 involving embezzlement of public funds of Rs 18.07 crore when she was the deputy commissioner of Khunti district.

The court Monday asked Jha to serve a copy of his petition to the Enforcement Directorate.

A vacation bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Rajesh Bindal, which posted the matter for further hearing on Friday, said it will consider the question of issuing notice to the probe agency that day.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Jha, said he has challenged the May 18 order of the Jharkhand High Court denying him bail in the case.

He submitted Jha had married Singhal on June 20, 2011 and the allegation is that he has received proceeds of crime from her in his bank accounts.

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj informed the court he will represent the ED in the case.

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 financial fortunes soared after his marriage to Singhal and cash started flowing into his bank accounts, which were allegedly the proceeds of crime generated through corrupt practices while discharging her official duties.

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 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 Crores. 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.

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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.

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 M/s Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. was his savings from the job in Australia, and gifts that he received during his tilak and marriage ceremonies.

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