The Jharkhand High Court on Tuesday directed the Enforcement Directorate to reply by June 10 to a petition filed by former Chief Minister Hemant Soren seeking bail in a money-laundering case, Live Law reported.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader has been in jail since January 31, when he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the case. This was shortly after he resigned as the chief minister after 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 alleged.

On May 22, Soren withdrew his petition in the Supreme Court challenging his arrest by the central agency in the case. He had moved the top court after the Jharkhand High Court rejected his petition.

The Supreme Court said that the former chief minister had not disclosed that a special court had taken cognisance of the complaint filed by the Enforcement Directorate. A special Prevention of Money Laundering Act court in Ranchi had rejected the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader’s petition for bail in the case on May 13.

On Monday, Soren filed a fresh petition for bail in the Jharkhand High Court.

In his petition, the former chief minister urged the court for an immediate hearing on the matter. The plea contended that Soren’s name was not mentioned in the documents related to the over 8.5 acres of land on which the Enforcement Directorate had taken action against him, Live Law reported.

Soren also argued that no offence under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act had been made out against him.

The central agency was relying only on statements from individuals who claimed that the land belonged to him, the chief minister alleged, adding that there was “no document to back such statements”.

The petition noted that land cannot be transferred to anyone under any circumstances under the state’s Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, Live Law reported.

The legislation was created to protect the land rights of the tribal population of Jharkhand. The Act prohibits the transfer of land to non-tribals to ensure community ownership.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the Enforcement Directorate sought three to four weeks to file its response to Soren’s petition. However, the court gave the central agency two weeks and scheduled the next hearing for June 10.

Voting has already taken place in 11 out of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Jharkhand. In Soren’s absence, his wife Kalpana Soren is campaigning for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

ED’s chargesheet

The chargesheet filed by the Enforcement Directorate on March 30 named Soren, Bhanu Pratap Prasad, Raj Kumar Pahan, Hilariyas Kachhap and Binod Singh as the accused persons in the alleged land scam. The central agency has also attached 8.86 acres of land allegedly owned by Soren.

According to the Enforcement Directorate, Soren acquired the land located at Baragain Anchal at Bariyatu Road in Ranchi through the proceeds of crime stemming from money-laundering. The central agency has also accused Soren of misusing his power and falsifying evidence in the case after he was issued the first summons for questioning on August 7.

The former chief minister has denied the allegations.

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