The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren if the validity of his arrest in an alleged money laundering case could be examined when a trial court has refused him bail and taken cognizance of the Enforcement Directorate’s complaint, Live Law reported.

Soren has been in jail since January 31, when he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on charges of money laundering in a land scam case. The arrest had come shortly after he resigned as the chief minister in the wake of being questioned by the central law enforcement agency in the matter.

The Enforcement Directorate has alleged that a “racket of land mafia” in Jharkhand was involved in tampering with official records in Ranchi and Kolkata. Some of the land acquired through the forgery was in Soren’s illegal possession, the agency has alleged.

On Tuesday, a vacation bench comprising Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma was hearing Soren’s plea challenging the Jharkhand High Court’s decision denying him bail.

Appearing for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader, Kapil Sibal told the top court that the Enforcement Directorate had booked Soren only on the basis of oral statements by some persons who claimed that the former chief minister had illegally taken possession of the land, reported Bar and Bench.

Sibal contended that Soren had nothing to do with the land in question. “Lease is with Rajkumar Pahan,” he said. “Nothing to do with me and the electricity line connection also on the land has nothing to do with me.”

The senior advocate also said that even if the central agency’s allegations are accepted, the allegation of land grabbing is not a scheduled offence under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The court, however, asked if the petition challenging Soren’s arrest could be maintained as the orders denying him bail had said that “there is commission of offence”.

It also said that the current bail plea in the Supreme Court was filed without taking the leave of the High Court which had reserved judgment on the petition challenging Soren’s arrest.

Sibal responded: “If I challenge my arrest in the High Court and it remains pending for 2.5 months, then can I never apply for bail?”

“This court has to decide that I can never apply for bail under Section 19 PMLA [which gives the Enforcement Directorate power to arrest] and if arrested under Section 19 then my right to bail goes,” said Sibal. “I am raising a constitutional infirmity because this is about my freedom and deals with Article 19 and if the arrest under Section 19 is wrong, then the arrest goes.”

He also asserted that the Enforcement Directorate’s case was a “cooked-up”. The court is scheduled to hear the matter on Wednesday.

Soren filed fake SC/ST Act cases, alleges ED

On Monday, the Enforcement Directorate told the Supreme Court that the Jharkhand Police, on the orders of Soren, filed fake cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act against the central agency’s personnel, Bar and Bench reported.

“Petitioner is disentitled to seek any interim bail as he has foisted false cases on the investigating officers of ED under the SC/ST Act to prevent and obstruct the authorities under the PMLA from discharging their duties,” said the agency.

It added: “If the petitioner is released on interim bail, he will misuse the state machinery to thwart further investigation in the case as well as influence witnesses and tamper with evidence.”

The remarks came in an affidavit filed in response to a Supreme Court notice. The top court, on May 13, asked the Enforcement Directorate to reply to Soren’s petition challenging his arrest.

The affidavit said that Soren had “committed offence of money laundering and involved in criminal activities related to the proceeds of crime”.

“No case for interim bail is made out circumventing the rigours of the mandatory twin conditions of Section 45 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” it said.

Section 45 of the Act states that an accused can only be granted bail if the court is prima facie satisfied that he has not committed an offence and is likely to not commit it while on bail.