The Enforcement Directorate (ED) probing a money laundering case on Sunday conducted a search at Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut's residence in suburban Bhandup for nine hours and questioned him before shifting him to the agency's office in south Mumbai in the evening, sources said.
Raut claimed he was being framed based on "false evidence" but won’t bow down and quit the party, shortly before being herded into the south Mumbai office of the ED. “They (ED) are going to arrest me. I am going to be arrested,” Raut told reporters outside the ED office after he was brought there from his Bhandup residence.
“Zukega nahi (won’t bow down),” Raut said, putting up a brave front. He alleged that the ED action was aimed at trying to weaken Shiv Sena and Maharashtra and that a "false" case is prepared against him.
After the ED action began in the early morning, Raut tweeted that he will die, but will not surrender and never leave Shiv Sena. At 7 am on Sunday, ED officials, accompanied by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, reached Raut's 'Maitri' bungalow of Raut and began the search.
The action follows two summonses issued by the ED against Raut, the latest being on July 27. Raut was summoned for questioning by the ED in a money laundering case linked to the alleged irregularities in the re-development of a Mumbai 'chawl' and related transactions involving his wife and 'associates'.
He had appeared before the agency in Mumbai to record his statement on July 1 but after that, he skipped the two summonses issued by the agency citing the ongoing Parliament session.
The Rajya Sabha MP, who is a Uddhav Thackeray loyalist, had denied any wrongdoing and alleged that he was being targeted due to political vendetta. In the late afternoon, Shiv Sena supporters holding saffron flags and banners raised slogans against ED when officials moved out with Raut outside his bungalow in Bhandup.
Sena workers tried to block the path of vehicles of ED but they were removed by local police, an official said, adding some protesters were bundled into a police van. Before going with ED officials, Raut came down at the gate of his home, waved at his supporters and displayed a saffron scarf.
Raut's mother, who was standing at the first-floor window of their bungalow, became emotional along with his other relatives. A posse of policemen and CRPF personnel were deployed near Raut's residence along with senior officers of Mumbai Police, the official said.
While on his way towards the ED office in a vehicle, Raut stood up and once again waved at his supporters. His younger brother Sunil Raut, an MLA, was seen arguing with police over the ED action.
"We have been with Shiv Sena for the last 30 years. Sanjay Raut is our leader and we stand by him. It seems the ED has evidence only against Shiv Sena leaders and not against any other political party. I want to know whether BJP leaders do not own any property?" asked a woman Shiv Sainik standing outside Raut's bungalow.
Sunil Raut claimed ED officials did not find any evidence related to Patra 'Chawl' case with Sanjay Raut. "False action, false evidence. I will die, but will not surrender. I will never leave Shiv Sena. I swear by Balasaheb Thackeray that I am not involved in any scam. He taught us to fight and I will continue to fight for Shiv Sena," Raut tweeted.
At the ED office located in the Ballard Estate area of south Mumbai, a posse of policemen has been deployed. Roads leading to the agency office were kept shut for vehicles and barricades have been placed, an official said.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray alleged the agency's action against Raut was part of a "conspiracy" to finish off the party. "He may get arrested. What conspiracy is this? Shiv Sena gives strength to Hindus and Marathi people and hence there is a conspiracy to finish off the party," he said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said if Raut is innocent, he should not be afraid of the ED action against him. "Raut has declared that he has not done anything wrong. If that is so, why fear a probe? Let it happen. Why fear if you are innocent?" he told reporters in Aurangabad.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Maharashtra also said that Raut should not be afraid of the ED action if he has not done anything wrong. Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Ajit Pawar, wondered why the ED repeatedly wants to investigate Raut though many people had been served notices by the Income Tax department, CBI, and the ED.
Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant said the ED action depicts a "sorry picture" of democracy and alleged that the BJP wants to "silence" all the Opposition parties. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule this issue will be raised in Parliament.
(With PTI Inputs)