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Lokpal asks CBI to probe within 6 months ‘benami’ properties of JMM chief Shibu Soren

Anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal on March 4 directed the CBI to probe within six months alleged benami properties linked to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren, according to its order.

The direction came while disposing of a complaint filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who represents Jharkhand’s Godda constituency in Lok Sabha, on August 5, 2020.

Also read | Delhi HC refuses to interfere with Lokpal proceedings against Shibu Soren

Hearing the matter, a bench of Lokpal directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to “carry out the investigation as expeditiously as possible and complete the investigation within a period of six months from the date of this order”.

The Lokpal also asked the CBI to apprise it of the progress the investigation makes by way of sending monthly reports.

“The first such report is due on or before 30th April, 2024,” said the order issued on Monday by the division bench of the Lokpal comprising Justice Abhilasha Kumari and non-judicial members Archana Ramasundaram and Mahender Singh.

In his complaint, Mr. Dubey had said that Mr. Soren and his family members indulged in rampant corruption and amassed huge wealth, assets and properties, disproportionate to their known and declared sources of income, by adopting unscrupulous and corrupt means, in his own name and the names of his family members, friends, associates and various companies in various districts of Jharkhand, including Ranchi, Dhanbad and Dumka, among others.

“Today (there) is the worst news for the Soren family of Jharkhand. After my complaint and legal battle, Lokpal today ordered CBI to file an FIR in the corruption case. Total 108/properties which were neither mentioned to the Election Commission @ECISVEEP nor to @IncomeTaxIndia by Shibu Soren ji’s family. Satyamev Jayate,” Mr. Dubey said in a post in Hindi on X.

The Lokpal order said that the complainant had attached an annexure to the complaint, containing an enumeration of 57 properties.

“It is alleged that besides these properties, several other properties have also been acquired by the RPS (respondent public servant) and his family members, the details of which can be found out upon investigation,” it said.

Mr. Soren, a Rajya Sabha member from Jharkhand, has been referred to as the RPS in the Lokpal’s order.

The complaint said Soren and his son (former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren) have made huge investments in various companies owned by Amit Agarwal, who is a close friend, and his family members, according to the order.

The complaint was perused and considered by the full bench of the Lokpal on September 15, 2020.

The full bench, by its order of the same date, directed the CBI director to conduct a preliminary inquiry and submit the report on or before November 6, 2020.

The matter again came up before the full bench on January 21, 2021 and it was observed that in view of the complaint being voluminous, further time was required by the CBI to analyse the legality of the assets possessed by Soren’s family members.

The CBI submitted a total of three preliminary inquiry reports to the Lokpal in between.

On February 22, senior advocate Arunabh Chowdhury, along with advocate Vaibhav Tomar and assisted by advocate Pragya Baghel, appeared before the Lokpal and said the allegations in the complaint pertain to acquisition of properties allegedly disproportionate to the known and declared sources of income of the RPS.

“Of the 57 properties enumerated in the complaint, except for two properties at serial numbers one and two of the annexure, all other properties have been acquired beyond the period of limitation prescribed in Section 53 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 and the Lokpal, therefore, has no jurisdiction to order an inquiry or investigation into such properties,” the order said.

The bench in its order said that the limitation is a mixed question of fact and law, and a complaint cannot automatically be thrown out at the initial stage of preliminary inquiry without ascertaining the facts, especially if it discloses allegations of a serious nature, merely because the public servant has written a letter to do so.

“Submissions advanced ought to be argued before the Lokpal and made good. Therefore, to say that no preliminary inquiry ought to have been directed without even hearing the RPS, cannot be accepted,” it said.

“To us, the above appears to be an anomalous and ironical situation, where in spite of the fact that the RPS and his family members have indulged in acquiring a plethora of prime properties in different parts of Jharkhand, often at unreasonably low prices, he escapes scrutiny of the Lokpal due to this legal position,” the bench said.

“Be that as it may, we focus on the two properties at serial numbers one and two… because these are not hit by the period of limitation of seven years… We are of the considered view that the role of the RPS in acquisition of these two properties in the name of JMM should be investigated,” the order said.

The order said the 80-odd properties, acquired by the RPS and his family members prior to seven years from the date of complaint and not covered by this order by virtue of limitation imposed under section 53 of the Lokpal Act, but admittedly coming within the purview of Prevention of Corruption Act, “the complainant is at liberty to pursue his complaint with the competent authority”.

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