The Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducted searches at places linked to Shiv-Sena spokesperson and legislator, Pratap Sarnaik, and a security services provider, Tops Group, in Mumbai and Thane in connection with an alleged money laundering case, on Tuesday. The agency carried out a four-hour operation, with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.The action comes a day after BJP leader and Union Minister Raosaheb Danve said there would be a new government in Maharashtra shortly.
Sarnaik is the Sena MLA from the Ovala-Majiwada constituency. His son Vihang, an active member of the Yuva Sena, the Sena's youth wing, was taken to the ED office from the family residence. He was questioning by officials and was released late in the evening. Sarnaik was out of Mumbai when the raids were conducted.
“The ED is conducting searches on Tops Group promoters and related members, including some politicians, in 10 places at Mumbai and Thane under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” sources said. The ED is investigating possible commercial links between Sarnaik and the group.
ED sources did not reveal details but have indicated that Sarnaik would be called for questioning after his return to the city. He is the chairman of the Vihang Group of Companies.
Tops Group’s group chairman and founder Diwan Rahul Nanda and the former management have been at loggerheads. A former CEO, in a complaint to Mumbai Police had alleged that in 2017, Nanda and his family transferred 66 per cent of their shares in Tops Group to a Mauritius-based Nanda family trust, which is in violation of the Private Securities Agencies (Regulations) Act. The Free Press Journal was unable to reach the CEO for his comment on the matter.
However, when Nanda was contacted about the ED searches, he denied the allegations.“The ED had questioned us about our business acquisition in the UK in 2009, which we have explained and given them evidence that everything was done 100 per cent legally. They also questioned me about our trust in Mauritius, which again we have answered and told them it was created legally by lawyers and it was created 100 per cent legally. They wanted to know what funds we had in the Mauritius trust and we have confirmed to them that we have ZERO money in the Mauritius trust,” he told The FPJ. Nanda added that they had written to investigating authorities “that all fund transfers done in 2009 for the UK business acquisition was done 100 per cent legally by Tops, with all the requisite legal and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) permissions”.
According to Nanda, they are co-operating with the ED. “We have asked them to examine every single file, paper, storage, cupboard, safe, everything they want because we have nothing to hide. We are the ones who have been affected and caused harm by the management during the 14 years when we didn’t live in India. We are the ones who are suffering because we are the promoters of the business that was mishandled and mismanaged by these so-called professionals who ruined our business in India,” he said.
On the searches done on premises linked with Sarnaik, he said, “The Pratap angle is ridiculous. I have known Pratap for many years as a friend. He has not invested a single penny in my business or company, ever. He or the Shiv Sena have nothing to do with Tops.”
Thane-based Sarnaik has been vocal about many issues and is also the spokesperson of the Sena. He had, in a tweet, demanded that actor Kangana Ranaut be booked for sedition for comparing Mumbai to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.The Shiv Sena, on September 8, had moved a privilege motion in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly against Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami for allegedly insulting the Maharashtra Assembly and conducting a media trial. Sarnaik’s Vihang Group is in the business of construction, hospitality and recreation.
MVA, BJP WAR OF WORDS
The ED move led to a war of words between the Maha Vikas Aghadi partners and the BJP. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut termed ED action political vendetta saying that the Maharashtra government or its leaders would not surrender to pressure from anyone. Without naming the BJP, he said it should forget the dream of coming to power in Maharashtra for the next 25 years, "no matter how much pressure it exerts or spreads terror through agencies".
"If you have begun today, we know how to end it," said Raut. "This action is definitely political vendetta. The ED or other agencies should not work as if they are a branch of a political party," he added.
Further, the Sena termed the ED's raids on properties of party MLA Pratap Sarnaik as "political vendetta" for his taking a firm stand against a "television channel" and in the architect Anvay Naik suicide case.
On Tuesday evening, Sarnaik met Raut.
Raut said Sarnaik told him that he had no idea about the case in which action has been initiated by the ED.
"Sarnaik took a firm stand in connection with a channel and in the Anvay Naik suicide case. Hence, such suppressive action. The entire Shiv Sena is with Sarnaik. The ED's action is a political matter," Raut added.
Raut further said that an agency could probe and take action in case if there was any evidence.
NCP leader and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal led a scathing attack against the BJP. He accused the ED of being the “Centre’s puppet”.
Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, who is the state Congress chief, alleged that the central agencies, including the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation are being used to settle political scores.
However, Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis refuted the allegations levelled by MVA partners. He argued that the ED would not take such action without concrete evidence. “I firmly believe if the ED takes action, it must have some concrete proof. If one has not done anything wrong, there is nothing to fear,’’ he noted.
On the other hand, former Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam, now in the Congress party, claimed that Shiv Sena leaders have gathered huge properties through corrupt means and such cases must be investigated generally.