New Delhi: Enforcement Directorate (ED) chief Sanjay Kumar Mishra, who is overseeing multiple cases of alleged money laundering against opposition leaders, received a one-year extension days ahead of the end of his two-year fixed tenure. On Saturday, the finance ministry modified its order dated November 19, 2018, through which the 1984-batch Indian Revenue Service officer was appointed as ED director, to extend his tenure with the approval of the president of India. With this exceptional decision by the Union government, Mishra’s tenure will now be for a period of three years.
The ED enforces two Central laws – the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). The agency has been pursuing money-laundering probes into a range of high-profile bank fraud cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and cases related to the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act. It has also carried attachment and seizure of properties in alleged terror-funding cases linked to FIRs filed by the National Investigation Agency.
Mishra had taken over from the IPS officer Karnal Singh, who was the first ED director to have been granted a two-year fixed tenure in February 2017 following a Supreme Court ruling on a PIL. Before his appointment in the ED, Mishra was posted as the chief commissioner of the Income Tax Department in Delhi. He was empanelled as an additional secretary in the Central government, following which he became eligible for the position of ED chief.
The Union government’s decision to extend Mishra’s term will likely come under scrutiny amidst allegations that Central investigation agencies like the CBI, NIA and ED are increasingly being used to specifically target opposition leaders. In recent times, the number of ED cases against opposition leaders have piled up unprecedentedly, and critics of the government say that since the CBI itself has to follow a number of stipulated, long-drawn investigation procedures, the ED is being employed by the Union government overtly for political gains.
Here is a list of cases which the ED is currently probing against opposition leaders under the stewardship of Mishra.
1. One of the most high-profile cases under the ED is the alleged Rs 2,500 crore loan fraud in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB). The case, which was previously being probed by the Economic Offence Wing (EOW), is based on a Mumbai police FIR registered in August 2019 on the directions of the Bombay high court.
The agency has sent summons to National Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar with regard to allegations against bank director Sharad Pawar’s nephew and former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, and 70 former functionaries of the bank. The NCP chief had alleged that the Union government specifically targeted him to contain his political influence ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections last year.
2. The ED is also investigating the role of former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda and senior Congress leader Motilal Vora over alleged irregularities in land allotments in Panchkula to Associated Journals Limited owned by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. This case also fell in the ED’s lap months ahead of last year’s Haryana assembly elections.
3. Similarly, around three months before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the ED started investigating deposits of Rs 104 crore in a bank account linked to the Bahujan Samaj Party and around Rs 1.5 crore in the account of BSP supremo Mayawati’s brother Anand Kumar. In January 2019, months ahead of the last parliamentary polls, the ED raided seven offices in UP in the alleged Rs 1,400 crore Dalit memorials scam during Mayawati’s tenure as the state’s chief minister.
4. Around the same time, the ED also registered a money-laundering case against former UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in an illegal mining case.
5. One of the most hotshot cases the ED is probing is the INX media case, relating to foreign exchange violations under FEMA. The CBI had arrested former finance minister P.Chidambaram in this case. Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram is also an accused in the case. “The INX scam was detected by the ED in 2016 while it was investigating a similar approval given to the Aircel-Maxis deal in 2006, when Chidambaram was finance minister,” India Today reported.
6. The ED has also been going after the Karnataka Congress chief D.K.Shivkumar on alleged money-laundering charges. The ED arrested Shivkumar, about two weeks after the CBI arrested Chidambaram, in September 2019, following income tax department raids at his house, and alleged recovery of unaccounted wealth in his house. Both Chidambaram and Shivkumar were lodged in Tihar Jail, New Delhi.
Chidambaram’s arrest was touted as Union home minister Amit Shah’s apparent revenge as the former was the Union home minister when Shah was arrested in July 2010 in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. Shivkumar has emerged as a dark horse in reviving the fortunes of the Karnataka Congress, and is being seen as a potential chief ministerial candidate for the grand-old party.
7. Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra is also under the lens of the ED for alleged irregularities in a number of land deals. The agency has raided Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality at least eight times, and has attached his assets.
8. While Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leaders A. Raja and Kanimozhi have been probed previously by the ED in the 2G scam cases, the agency is currently pursuing cases of money laundering, including the Aircel-Maxis case, in which the Tamil Nadu-based opposition party’s Dayanithi and Kalanithi Maran are accused.
9. Similarly, the ED is also pursuing cases against Y.S. Chowdary and Narayan Rane. While probing, ED attached Chowdary’s assets worth Rs 316 crore in April 2019 in a bank fraud case. Two months later, the Telugu Desam Party leader switched sides to join the BJP.
Former Maharashtra chief minister from the Congress Rane faced money-laundering charges when he had quit the Congress and launched his Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha. However, in October 2019, he merged his party with the BJP. Since then, there is no information available on the progress of the cases against him.
10. In 2019, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, known to be a close aide of Sonia Gandhi’s, also faced ED’s heat. The agency probed Patel’s son and son-in-law in the Sterling Biotech money-laundering case.
11. Similarly, in August 2019, ED also arrested then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath’s nephew Ratul Puri in a multi-crore bank loan fraud case. Puri is also being investigated in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam.
12. YSR Congress leader and current Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has also been facing ED’s scrutiny in a range of money laundering cases and alleged land scams. His recent friendly gestures towards the Centre are being seen by the opposition as Reddy’s attempt to curry favour with the Narendra Modi government.
13. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference veteran leader Farooq Abdullah has also been grilled over his alleged role in the multi-crore J&K Cricket Association scam.
14. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot were also named by the ED over around Rs 24 crore losses in one Rajasthan ambulance scheme case.
15. Opposition leaders like Raj Thackeray, Om Prakash Chautala (who is currently lodged in jail in another case), Naveen Jindal, Lalu Prasad Yadav, his son Tejashwi Yadav and daughter Misa Bharati, and many others are also being probed by the ED in different cases.
Opposition leaders have alleged that the ED has cherry-picked its targets on the directions of the Union government, and that it has not been functioning autonomously. They have also said that the moment some of the tainted opposition leaders ingratiate themselves with BJP, the ED appears to lose interest in cases against them.
Many such leaders have figured prominently in the opposition’s claims of partisanship. The most prominent examples given by opposition leaders are of Mukul Roy, who switched to the BJP from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), and Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, who crossed over from the Congress. Both were named in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam but the ED has mostly ignored them while probing these cases. Bellary’s infamous Reddy Brothers and their alleged role in mining scams also appears to be similarly on the back-burner.
The ED, under Mishra, has also had several run-ins with international non-governmental organisations like Amnesty International. While probing Amnesty’s functioning in India – which NGOs have alleged in a part of a “political witch-hunt” against rights advocacy organisations – the ED conducted a probe against Amnesty India International’s alleged FEMA violations but could not find anything incriminating at the end. It has also probed AAP leader Tahir Hussain for alleged money-laundering, but, curiously, only after he was arrested in a Delhi riots case. Similarly, it started probing the funds received by the Tablighi Jamaat after its conference shot to the limelight in the initial days of coronavirus outbreak.
Commentators have said recently that the ED has surpassed the CBI as the primary investigation agency over the last few years. It is handling the most sensitive, high-profile cases – those which constantly get media attention. Mishra, who got an extension on Saturday, is credited the most for propelling the ED’s functioning to the national limelight.
“Much of the ED’s transformation has taken place under director S.K. Mishra, who took charge in October 2018. An unassuming officer from the Indian Revenue Service, Mishra prefers to keep a low profile. Even a photograph of the director is not available on the ED website. Mishra works six days a week out of the ED’s modest headquarters in Lok Nayak Bhavan near Khan Market in Delhi. He oversees an organisation which has a working strength of 1,273 officers against a sanctioned strength of 2,066 officers. Only about 400 of them are investigators,” The Week reported last year.
This transition from a small enforcement agency to one of the most significant institutions under the leadership of Mishra has got frenetic media attention. However, much of the opposition’s claims of selective targeting against it has also emerged in the light of its really poor conviction rate.
“…for all its powers and show of strength, the agency has a rather poor record in terms of taking cases to the logical conclusion. Of around 2,400 cases that it has registered under the PMLA since 2005, only eight have ended in conviction. Its investigation too has remained tardy, with prosecution complaints having been filed in only 688 cases till June 2019,” the Indian Express reported in September 2019. A detailed examination of the ED’s conviction rate was also done by The Wire.