ED cites Ajit Pawar's links to Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, opposes probe closure

The ED cited a Bombay high court order in its application that found material evidence disclosing 'cognizable offence'. The EOW has opposed the ED plea and said that it did not have the locus standi to intervene and that the interference was unwar...

The ED's application cites bids placed by deputy CM Ajit Pawar's family to acquire sugar mills auctioned by the bank while he was its director.
MUMBAI: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has, in an application before a special court on Tuesday, intervened and opposed a closure report filed by Mumbai police's Economic Offences Wing (EOW) after looking at large loans to sugar mills which were written off by the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB).

The ED cited a Bombay high court order in its application that found material evidence disclosing 'cognizable offence'. The EOW has opposed the ED plea and said that it did not have the locus standi to intervene and that the interference was unwarranted.

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The ED's application cites bids placed by deputy CM Ajit Pawar's family to acquire sugar mills auctioned by the bank while he was its director. The agency has underlined this conflict of interest between Pawar's role as an MSCB director and his family's businesses in more than one instance.

In the first case, it is the Jarandeshwar sugar mill which was acquired by a bidder who was financed by Pawar's family, the agency said. The bidder later handed over the mill to a company owned by Pawar's maternal uncle Rajendra Ghadge on lease, it added.

In the second instance, when the bank auctioned the Kannad Sugar Cooperative mill, it was Sharad Pawar's grandnephew Rohit Pawar's company Baramati Agro which purchased it. There were two bidders shortlisted and the second bidder Hitech Engineering's Rs 5-crore deposit for bid participation was funded by Baramati Agro, the agency claimed.

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The ED has also listed auctioning of five more sugar mills - Kondeshwar, Shankar, Akola Zilla, Ambadevi, Ram Ganesh Gadkari - bought by different entities who paid money to the bank after a year. One of them paid the entire money after three years. All of them paid an initial 25% of the auction amount a month after the auction. The reserve prices for the auction was in the range of Rs 17-26 crore, but sale was concluded at lower rates in all five cases.

One of the five companies, Ram Ganesh Gadkari, was sold to Prasad Sugar & Allied Agro Products which was managed by Prasad Tanpure through his son Prajakt. Prasad Tanpure was director in the bank when it sold Ram Ganesh Gadkari mill to his son's company.

On Tuesday, along with the original complainant, businessman Surinder Mohan Arora, three members of sugar factories sold by MSCB, Shalinitai Patil, former MLA and widow of former state CM Vasantdada Patil, former NCP member and ex-MLA Manik Bhimrao Jadhav, and Kisan Kewad also filed protest petitions against EOW's 70,000-page closure report. Urging the court to reject the report, they sought time to move the HC to seek transfer of investigations to the CBI or any other central investigating agency.

In a plea through advocate Satish Talekar, Shalinitai Patil (87), chairperson of Jarandeshwar Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Ltd, said she had requested investigating agencies to trace the money trail to establish the links in the case. Patil alleged that a bid by Guru Commodity Pvt Ltd was submitted after the last date and the tendering process was manipulated so as to award the contract to it. "It is her allegation that Guru Commodity is a shell company funded by Ajit Pawar. She has further alleged, by placing on record the documents available in the public domain, that the net worth of Guru Commodity was only Rs 56 lakh whereas it could not have been possible for such a firm to even participate in the tender process," the plea said.

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Patil's plea said, "The conduct of the investigating officer has been doubtful since the very beginning whereas she had every apprehension that the EOW under the aegis of the coalition government of NCP-Shiv Sena and INC would not conduct an impartial and transparent investigation." Jadhav's plea claimed that 70% of the board of directors of MSCB are NCP loyalists. Further he alleged that 32 co-operative sugar factories were sold at throwaway prices by MSCB under the direction of its directors, most of whom belonged to NCP or owed allegiance to it.
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