Court Rejects ED Petition for Bhujbal's Further Custody

Court Rejects ED Petition for Bhujbal's Further Custody
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Court Rejects ED Petition for Bhujbal's Further Custody

A court here today rejected Enforcement Directorate's plea for further custody of former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister of Chhagan Bhujbal, arrested in a money laundering case, saying sufficient grounds were not made out for this.

ED had sought seven more days custody of Bhujbal but judge P R Bhavke of the special court for Prevention of Money Laundering Act cases sent the senior NCP leader in judicial custody till March 31, saying "sufficient ground was not made out for further remand".

Bhujbal, arrested on March 14, will be lodged in high- security Arthur Road jail here now.

Bhujbal told the court today that statements of some of the witnesses were lies and concocted stories.

Referring to the statement of one of the witnesses who is employee of the Mumbai Education Trust controlled by the Bhujbal family that he had seen bags of cash being brought to the office, Bhujbal questioned what was he doing there.

"I had gone gone to MET office's guest house late in the night (that day) as I had to catch a flight early in the morning. What was this witness....Doing there late at night when the people at MET leave for home at 5.30 pm?" he said.

The NCP leader also complained that yesterday ED officers recorded his statement till 4.30 pm and again turned up to question him further at 11.30 at night.

"I told them they can take my statement early in the morning today. I woke up early today. I told the ED officials that we have to go to the court today, so why were they delaying. They said they were busy with other work and kept me waiting," he told the court.

Bhujbal is accused of receiving kickbacks in awarding of contract for the state guest-house `Maharashtra Sadan' in New Delhi and laundering this money through various ways. 

AAP leader Preeti Sharma-Menon, who had moved the HC accusing Bhujbal of corruption and seeking a probe, today filed an application saying one of the witnesses was being pressurised by the Bhujbal family to withdraw his statement to the investigators.

Bhujbal told the court he had not pressurised anyone nor had he instructed anyone to do anything.

Vinod Gangwal, a lawyer, filed another application before the court demanding that it should invoke stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against Bhujbal.

These applications will be heard on March 31.

ED in its remand application said that statements of certain individuals closely connected with MET and business activities of the Bhujbals were recorded yesterday and they confirmed that huge cash was paid to market operators at MET office by Sameer Bhujbal, Chhagan Bhujbal's nephew.

The firms controlled by Sameer (who is already arrested) conducted no genuine businesses so as to generate such a huge revenue and only he and Bhujbal can explain the source of these funds, ED said.

The witnesses also told the agency that Bhujbal visited MET office here once or twice a month and he was aware of all the business activities which Sameer looked after.

"As chairman of MET, Bhujbal was aware that its employees were directors of various companies of the group controlled by Sameer," ED said.

Whenever cash was brought to the MET office, Sameer told Bhujbal about it if he was present there. Bhujbal was also aware of all the real estate purchases by the firms controlled by him, it said.

"When a witness expressed his inability to continue as director in one of the entities of the group, Bhujbal shouted at him angrily...In the presence of Sameer," the remand application said. 

ED argued it needed Bhujbal's further remand because he was to be confronted with statements of witnesses and he had refused to cooperate. When he was informed that there was to be a face-to-face confrontation (meeting) with the witnesses, he complained of restlessness.

However, subsequent medical check-up showed that he was absolutely fine, said ED lawyer Hiten Venegaonkar.

It is yet to investigate why the contractors involved in Maharashtra Sadan, RTO office and Kalina library projects made huge donations to Chhagan Bhujbal foundation and, if needed, it would hold face-to-face confrontation, the ED said.

ED also said it had found evidence of cash generation of almost Rs 200 crore and it was necessary to interrogate him to find its source/mode of cash generation.

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