The Bombay High Court on Thursday granted interim protection from arrest for one week to Nationalist Congress Party leader Eknath Khadse in a money laundering case, reported PTI. The case pertains to alleged irregularities in the purchase of a land plot in Pune in 2016.

A single bench of Justice NW Sambre also directed Khadse to approach a special court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for bail.

Khadse has been accused of misusing his official powers to facilitate the purchase of government land of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation by his family in Pune’s Bhosari area in 2016. He was then the revenue minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party government.

He had denied any wrongdoing, saying that the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Income Tax department had given him a clean chit in the matter. However, following the allegations, Khadse had resigned as the revenue minister from the Devendra Fadnavis-led government in June 2016. In 2020, he joined the Nationalist Congress Party.

On Thursday, the High Court was hearing Khadse’s plea for pre-arrest bail in the case.

During the hearing, advocate Shirish Gupte, appearing for Khadese, argued that the Enforcement Directorate has already filed a chargesheet in the case and he had never been arrested during the investigation. Earlier this month, a special court had summoned him after taking cognisance of the chargesheet.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, argued that Khadse should approach a sessions court first for bail before moving to the High Court, reported The Indian Express.

In its order, the High Court directed Khadse to file a plea before the special court within a week. “If it is moved, the special court is directed to decide the same then and there expeditiously, provided the respondent is served with the copy of the application,” the High Court said.

Gupte then sought protection from arrest for one more week. But, the High Court turned down the request.

The case

The Anti Corruption Bureau of Maharashtra had registered a first information report against Khadse, his wife Mandakini, his son-in-law Girish Chaudhary, and land owner Abbas Aqani in 2017, reported India Today. Chaudhary was arrested in the case in July this year.

The case was registered on allegations made by realtor Hemant Gawande who accused Khadse of defrauding the exchequer in the land deal.

The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation had acquired the land from Aqani in 1971 but the land was a under dispute over compensation to the land owner, reported The Times of India.

Khadse had then convened a meeting of revenue, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation and land acquisition officials on April 12, 2016. He had directed them to take a quick decision on whether to return the land to the Aqanis or give them a higher compensation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act.

Two weeks later, the Aqanis made the sale deed in favour of Khadse’s wife and son-in-law.

After the Enforcement Directorate summoned Khadse in December 2020, he said that his family had bought the piece of land in Bhosari that was later declared as Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation plot and that it was a disputed land.

“My wife had purchased the land and I have no direct link with the purchase,” he had said.

After Khadse joined the Nationalist Congress Party, the Enforcement Directorate questioned him in January. Khadse alleged that the central agency summoned him only after he left the BJP and joined the Sharad Pawar-led party. He had then moved the High Court, seeking protection from arrest.

The agency, however, told the High Court that Khadse was not an accused as per its case information report, but added that he was not responding to their queries and that it may become a ground for arrest.