Ex-Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren Granted Bail: Court Finds ‘Reason to Believe’ in Innocence

Former chief minister Hemant Soren walks free after five months in jail, as Jharkhand HC finds 'reason to believe' in his innocence. Detailed court order raises doubts about ED's investigation and possible false implications

Ranchi: Jharkhand High Court, while granting bail to former chief minister Hemant Soren under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in an alleged land scam case, mentioned, “There is ‘reason to believe’ that the petitioner (Hemant Soren) is not guilty of the offence as alleged” in its order.

Soren, a tribal leader and the working president of the ruling government in the state, was in jail for 5 months. Enforcement Directorate (ED) had lodged a case in connection with an alleged 8.86-acre land deal in Baragain, Ranchi. According to the enforcement agency, the former chief minister was supposed to buy the land and the agency claimed that they had got related documents from the residence of the former CM in Ranchi.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, journalists, minister are still in jail-Hemant Soren 

At his residence, Hemant Soren also talked to newsmen and said, “The bail I received carries a message that there was a conspiracy against me. I was implicated in a false case and jailed for 5 months. The country is also witnessing that such a long time is being taken to get justice.”

On the occasion, he also remembered several important persons of different fields languishing in the prisons across India, “Journalists and the people who raise voices against the government, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and ministers are in jail.”

“The people who are doing their duty, they are facing problems.” And affirmed, “The fight (against BJP), which we promised, will continue.”

Change in Jharkhand’s political landscape     

Before going to jail, Hemant Soren had to resign. And in his place, Champai Soren, another senior party leader was made chief minister of Jharkhand. Hemant Soren’s wife, Kalpana Soren, fought an assembly bypoll, from Gandey which was vacated by senior JMM leader Sarfaraz Ahmed, now Rajya Sabha MP and got elected to the Jharkhand assembly.

Amidst this, the Lok Sabha polls also took place, in which JMM won three seats, all were reserved ones.

However, there has been another major change in Hemant Soren’s family and with the party as his sister-in-law, Sita Soren left the JMM and joined the BJP. She fought the Lok Sabha election but lost to JMM candidate Nalin Soren.

Observations of Justice Rongon Mukhopadhyay’s court

The 55-page long order has many points to look into, however, the last three points— 62, 63 and 64 are being mentioned here as it is:

“The overall conspectus of the case based on broad probabilities does not specifically or indirectly assign the petitioner to be involved in the acquisition and possession as well as concealment of 8.86 acres of land at Shanti Nagar, Baragain, Ranchi connected to the “proceeds of crime”. None of the registers/revenue records bear the imprint of the direct involvement of the petitioner in the acquisition and possession of the said land. As it has been noticed above, the statement of Page 54 of 55 B.A. No. 4892 of 2024 some of the persons u/s 50 PMLA, 2002 designated the petitioner in the acquisition and possession of the property in question in the year 2010 without any material worth consideration and for all this while none of the ousted persons had approached the competent authority by registering any complaint which has conveniently been discounted by the Enforcement Directorate that the approaches though made to the Police proved futile. There was no reason for the purported oustees from the land in question not to have approached the authorities for redressal of their grievance if at all the petitioner had acquired and possessed the said land when the petitioner was not in power. The claim of the Enforcement Directorate that its timely action had prevented the illegal acquisition of the land by forging and manipulating the records seems to be an ambiguous statement when considered in the backdrop of the allegation that the land was already acquired and possessed by the petitioner as per some of the statements recorded u/s 50 PMLA, 2002 and that too from the year 2010 onwards.

The consequence of the findings recorded by this Court satisfies the condition as at Section 45 PMLA, 2002 to the effect that there is “reason to believe” that the petitioner is not guilty of the offence as alleged. So far as the condition that he is not likely to commit any offence while on bail reference is once again made to the case of “Ranjitsing Brahmajeetsing Sharma versus State of Maharashtra & Another” (supra) which has interpreted such provision as under: “38. …. The satisfaction of the court as regards his likelihood of not committing an offence while on bail must be construed to mean an offence under the Act and not any offence whatsoever be it a minor or major offence. If such an expansive meaning is given, even the likelihood of the commission of an offence Page 55 of 55 B.A. No. 4892 of 2024 under Section 279 of the Penal Code, 1860 may debar the court from releasing the accused on bail. A statute, it is trite, should not be interpreted in such a manner as would lead to absurdity…”

The court also commented on the conduct of Hemant Soren, which was cited as a reason by the lawyers representing ED for not granting bail.   

“Though the conduct of the petitioner has been sought to be highlighted by the Enforcement Directorate on account of the First Information Report instituted by the petitioner against the officials of the Enforcement Directorate but on an overall conspectus of the case there is no likelihood of the petitioner committing a similar nature of offence. The twin conditions as prescribed u/s 45 PMLA, 2002 having been fulfilled, I am inclined to allow this application. Accordingly, the petitioner is directed to be released on bail on furnishing bail bond of Rs. 50,000/- (Rupees Fifty Thousand only) with two sureties of the like amount each, to the satisfaction of learned Additional Judicial Commissioner-I-cum-Special Judge, PMLA, Ranchi in connection with ECIR Case No. 06/2023, arising out of ECIR/RNZO/25/2023 dated 26.06.2023.”

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