Pooja Singhal arrested in money laundering case

Jharkhand mining secretary Pooja Singhal was arrested Wednesday by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case linked to alleged embezzlement of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme funds in Khunti and other suspicious financial transactions, officials said.

Officials said the 2000-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer was taken into custody under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after two consecutive days of questioning by the federal probe agency.

Sources claimed Singhal was ‘evasive’ in her replies, and hence was arrested.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) will produce her before a local court here seeking her remand.

She had arrived at the probe agency’s regional office in the Hinoo area of Ranchi around 10:40 am for the second day of questioning and was arrested around 5 pm.

Singhal was at the ED office for about nine hours on Tuesday where her statement was recorded.

The statement of her businessman husband, Abhsihek Jha, too has been recorded in the case on at least on three occasions, the sources said.

This is the second arrest in this case after Suman Kumar, a chartered accountant and financial advisor allegedly linked to the couple, was held by the ED last week on May 7, a day after the agency raided their premises and some other locations in different states.

The money laundering investigation against Singhal and others pertains to a case in which former Jharkhand government junior engineer Ram Binod Prasad Sinha was arrested by the agency on June 17, 2020 from West Bengal.

He was booked under the PMLA in 2012 on the basis of state vigilance bureau FIRs against him.

Sinha was booked by the vigilance bureau under criminal sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to cheating and corruption for allegedly defrauding public money and investing it in his own name as well as in the name of his family members while working as junior engineer from April 1, 2008 to March 21, 2011.

The said money was earmarked for the execution of government projects under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in Khunti district, the agency had earlier said.

Sinha told the ED that ‘he paid five per cent commission (out of the defrauded funds) to the district administration’.

During the period, the ED had alleged, charges of “irregularities” were made against Singhal while she served as the deputy commissioner/district magistrate of Chatra, Khunti and Palamu between 2007 and 2013.

The agency, during the May 6 raids, seized over Rs 17 crore cash from CA Suman Kumar’s premises. The total cash seizure in this case including all locations is Rs 19.31 crore, officials had said.

The agency had claimed, in a remand note presented to the court for Kumar, that Singhal and her husband received “huge” cash deposits — to the tune of Rs 1.43 crore — over and above her salary in their accounts, during the period she faced charges of irregularities while being posted as the DM of various districts in the state.

The ED also told a special PMLA court in Ranchi that the IAS officer allegedly transferred Rs 16.57 lakh from her “personal account” to those controlled or owned by CA Kumar.

The IAS officer, the ED had told the court, purchased 13 policies and paid a premium of Rs 80.81 lakh between 2005-06 and 2012-13 fiscal and later “closed them (policies) pre-maturely and received closure amount of Rs 84.64 lakh.”

The agency is also looking at the business transactions and other finances of a multi-speciality hospital based in Ranchi which is allegedly managed by Singhal’s husband.

ED officials had earlier said they seized a number of “incriminating documents that indicate political and higher bureaucracy links with alleged illegal mining activities in the state” during the raids.