The Shiv Sena, struggling to stay afloat after the recent rebellion in its ranks by Eknath Shinde and his supporters, received a major blow on Sunday after its MP and party spokesman Sanjay Raut was detained by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) after 9.5 hours of questioning and searches at his home, purportedly in connection with a money laundering case linked to the alleged irregularities in the Patra Chawl redevelopment project in Mumbai.
Raut was later taken to the ED office in Fort amid heavy police bandobast and CISF cover. A large number of Shiv Sena workers, who had gathered at Raut’s Bhandup residence, shouted slogans in his support and condemned the ED’s action. Raut, like the former NCP minister Nawab Malik, had been at the forefront when it came to taking the BJP head-on and now, both find themselves in the ED net.
Raut tweeted, “Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena will continue to fight. False action. False evidence. I will not leave Shiv Sena. Even if I die, I will not surrender. Jai Maharashtra.” In another tweet, he said, “You cannot beat the person who never gives up! Won’t bow down! Jai Maharashtra!” “Long live Shiv Sena!!! Will keep fighting,” he added.
With a saffron scarf around his neck, Raut went to the ED office in his car, as his mother, along with his wife Varsha watched from the window of their house.
After reaching the ED office, Raut declared, “Let action be taken, I am not afraid. This is political vendetta. My party is with me. Uddhav Thackeray and Shiv Sainiks are standing firmly with me. …If today’s action against me will give Shiv Sena and Maharashtra the strength to fight, I am ready to make a sacrifice.”
He further clarified that ED had not found any documents relating to Patra Chawl. “I don’t even know where Patra Chawl is located. But still, it has been decided to break apart the Shiv Sena, silence my voice, weaken Uddhav Thackeray. That is what this action is for. However, such actions will not weaken the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra,” he asserted.
Raut, who had appeared before the ED on July 1 to record his statement, skipped the two subsequent summonses served on July 20 and 27, citing that the monsoon session of Parliament was underway. He had conveyed that he could appear on August 7.
Raut’s detention comes a day after Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari found himself in the midst of a blazing row following his remarks on Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, which put the Shinde-Fadnavis government on the defensive, despite the two-member regime having distanced itself from the governor’s remarks. Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant alleged that the ED action had been orchestrated by BJP. “Why is the ED raiding a Marathi when Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari claims that all the wealth in the state belongs to Gujaratis and Rajasthanis?’’ he asked, adding, “the governor himself says that if Gujaratis and Rajasthanis leave Maharashtra, we would lose the title of financial capital. Going by that statement, who are the wealthy ones? And who (Sanjay Raut) is facing a raid? So, who is behind it? The BJP.”
Minutes before the ED detained Raut, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, while addressing party workers from Thane, condemned the action by the Central probe agency. “There is a possibility that Sanjay Raut will be arrested. This is a shameless conspiracy; the BJP’s conspiracy is to divide Hindus, to finish the Shiv Sena, to reduce the Shiv Sena’s strength and Marathi people,” he claimed. Without naming the BJP, Thackeray alleged that it wanted to break the Shiv Sena and party’s relationship with the Thackerays.
“However, the Shiv Sena cannot be broken, no matter how hard they try. There is a need to expose the conspiracy,” said Thackeray.
What is the Patra Chawl scam case?
In April, the ED provisionally attached more than Rs 11.15 crore in assets belonging to Raut’s wife Varsha and two of his associates, as part of this investigation.
The attached properties are in the form of land held by Pravin M Raut, Sanjay Raut’s aide and a former director of Guru Ashish Construction Pvt Ltd, at Palghar, Saphale (town in Palghar) and Padgha (in Thane district).
The attached properties also include a flat in Dadar, held by Varsha Raut and eight plots at Kihim beach in Alibaug, jointly held by Varsha Raut and Swapna Patkar, wife of Sujit Patkar, the ED said in a statement.
According to the ED, Sujit Patkar is a close associate of Sanjay Raut. It is understood that the agency wants to question Sanjay Raut to know about his ‘business and other links’ with Pravin Raut and Patkar and also about the property deals involving his wife.
After arresting Pravin Raut in February, the ED had said he appeared to be ‘acting as a front’ or in collusion with some influential person(s).
The agency had said during the probe it was revealed he made payments to certain ‘politically exposed persons’.
Pravin Raut’s arrest
Pravin Raut was arrested by the ED in a probe linked to an alleged land scam of Rs 1,034 crore in the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl in Goregaon.
Currently, he is in judicial custody. Guru Ashish Construction Pvt Ltd was involved in the redevelopment of Patra Chawl, which had 672 tenants in tenements spread over 47 acres of land belonging to the Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority (MHADA), the ED had said earlier.
Guru Ashish is a subsidiary company of the Housing Development Infrastructure Ltd. (HDIL). HDIL is under investigation by the ED and other agencies, in connection with an alleged Rs 4,300 crore fraud at the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank.
The ED said Guru Ashish had entered a ‘tripartite agreement’ with the tenants and the MHADA to redevelop Patra Chawl. According to the agreement, the ED said, the developer had to provide flats to 672 tenants and develop flats for MHADA.
Thereafter, the remaining area was to be sold by the developer. “The directors of Guru Ashish Constructions misled MHADA and managed to sell the FSI (floor space index) to nine developers and collected about Rs 901.79 crore without constructing the rehab portion for the 672 displaced tenants and MHADA portion,” it said.
The realty company also launched a project called Meadows and collected around Rs 138 crore as booking amount from flat buyers. “The total proceeds of crime generated by the directors of Guru Ashish Constructions Pvt Ltd through illegal activities was about Rs 1,039.79 crore. Part of the proceeds of crime was further transferred to close associates,” it alleged.
The ED probe, conducted so far, found that “around Rs 100 crore were transferred from HDIL to the account of Pravin Raut”. This amount was further ‘diverted’ by Pravin Raut to various accounts of his close associates, family members, his business entities etc., the agency said.
“During 2010, part of the proceeds of crime of Rs 83 lakh was received by Varsha Raut (wife of Sanjay Raut) directly/ indirectly from Madhuri Pravin Raut, wife of Pravin Raut.” “This amount was utilised by Varsha Raut for the purchase of a flat at Dadar east,” the agency alleged.
ED investigations found that an amount of Rs 55 lakh was transferred back by Varsha Raut to Madhuri Raut. There are various other transactions too, it said.
A charge sheet was filed by the agency in April against Pravin Raut. The agency had questioned Varsha Raut last year, in connection with the PMC Bank case and her purported links with Pravin Raut’s wife.
Probe found that Varsha Sanjay Raut and Madhuri Pravin Raut “are partners in Avani Construction and Varsha Raut has received Rs 12 lakh from this entity (as overdrawn capital converted to loan) on a contribution of mere Rs 5,625”.