‘No Reasonable Ground to Believe that Hemant Soren is Guilty Under PMLA’, Observes Jharkhand HC While Granting Bail to Former CM

The court remarked that the ED’s assertion that its prompt intervention thwarted Soren and other accused from illicitly acquiring land appeared “ambiguous”, especially considering testimony from other witnesses alleging that he had already acquired the land.
After walking free following five months of incarceration, an emotional Hemant Soren (left) meets his father Shibu Soren.
After walking free following five months of incarceration, an emotional Hemant Soren (left) meets his father Shibu Soren.Photo: Special Arrangement

Ranchi: The Jharkhand High Court on June 28 granted bail to Hemant Soren, observing that the former chief minister is not specifically or indirectly involved in the alleged money laundering case associated with a land scam. It said there is no reasonable ground to believe that he is guilty under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

“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 offense as alleged… On an overall conspectus of the case there is no likelihood of the petitioner committing a similar nature of offense,” Justice Rongon Mukhopadhyay, presiding as the sole judge, said in his order.

The court observed that there was no sufficient reason to believe the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader’s role in acquisition and possession as well as concealment of 8.86 acres of land connected to the “proceeds of crime”.

“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,” the court said.

Soren is accused of unlawfully obtaining 8.5 acres of land in the Baragain Circle, Ranchi, and allegedly participating in a plan to launder the illicit funds while presenting the property as legitimate.

Justice Mukhopadhyay remarked that the Enforcement Directorate (ED)’s assertion that its prompt intervention thwarted Soren and other accused from illicitly acquiring land appeared vague, especially considering testimony from other witnesses alleging that he had already acquired the land.

“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 under section 50 PMLA, 2002 and that too from the year 2010 onward.”

Therefore, the court ordered Soren's release on bail, contingent upon him providing a bond of Rs 50,000 along with two sureties of equal amount each, to be approved by the Additional Judicial Commissioner (Special Judge) in Ranchi.

Soren resigned as chief minister of Jharkhand on January 31 after being arrested by the ED in the money laundering case concerning the alleged illegal transfer of land ownership by criminal elements in the state.

The case revolves around accusations that three individuals had purchased specific land in 1985, but Soren and others purportedly forcibly displaced them in 2009-10 to seize control of the property. It was also claimed that the complaints filed by the displaced individuals went unanswered by the police.

In a video released just before his arrest in connection with this matter, Soren asserted that he was being detained based on forged documents as part of a conspiracy.

During proceedings in the High Court, he contended that his name did not feature in any documents related to the 8.5 acres of land and that he had not committed any offense under the PMLA.

A petition contesting his arrest by the ED was rejected by a Division Bench of the High Court on May 3, following the Supreme Court's directive for Soren to initially seek relief from the Jharkhand High Court.

Significantly, in granting bail to Soren today, Justice Mukhopadhyay remarked that the Division Bench’s remarks in its May 3 ruling would not hold sway in determining the bail issue.

“An entirely new scenario has emerged with the filing of the prosecution complaint and the supplementary prosecution complaint. The present case being an application of bail and operating in an entirely different sphere and in view of the changed circumstances noted above would not be shackled by the observations made in W.P.(Cr.) No. 68 of 2024,” said the court.

It also found it perplexing that the three original owners, who were purportedly evicted by Soren, could have acquired the land, given that it was classified as “Bakast Bhuinhari” land, which is non-transferable under Section 48 of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA).

Based on these initial observations, the court then granted bail to Soren — who walked free after five months of incarceration.

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