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Why ED has arrested Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former Punjab AAP leader now back in Congress

Khaira was under investigation for his alleged involvement in a drug and weapons haul case of 2015, lodged in Jalalabad. ED had raided his residence in March.

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Chandigarh: Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly who is now with the ruling Congress, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate Thursday in a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The arrest came six months after his residence in Chandigarh was raided by an ED team.

Sources in the ED said Khaira was under investigation following his alleged involvement in a drug and weapons haul case of 2015, lodged in Jalalabad (Fazilka), in which he had been summoned as an accused in 2017.

Khaira, who was in the Congress for several decades, had joined the Aam Aadmi Party ahead of the 2017 assembly polls, and won the Bholath seat. He remained the leader of opposition for a brief while before being removed from the post by the party high command in 2019.

Protesting against his removal, Khaira left the party with half a dozen AAP MLAs and created his own outfit, the Punjab Ekta Party. In June this year, he rejoined the Congress. His resignation from the assembly was accepted by the Speaker recently.


Also read: What Sukhpal Khaira’s ghar wapsi to Congress says about Amarinder Singh’s politics


FIR didn’t name him but court ordered probe

The 2015 FIR registered in Jalalabad charged 11 accused under Sections 21, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29 and 30 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985; Section 25­A of the Arms Act, and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Police had recovered 1,800 grams of heroin, two weapons with over two dozen live cartridges, Pakistani SIM cards and two dozen gold biscuits from this alleged gang of drug smugglers. Apart from drugs, the cartel was allegedly involved in creation of fraudulent documents including passports.

The FIR did not name Khaira. Two charge sheets were submitted in the trial court by the Punjab Police in the case, which again did not have Khaira’s name as an accused.

In July 2017, on an application filed by the prosecution, certain witnesses and accused in the case were recalled by the court, and they named Khaira as having been involved in the drug haul. In October 2017, the sessions court, while convicting nine of the accused, ordered investigation against Khaira as an “additional accused”.

Khaira challenged the orders of the trial court in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which dismissed his revision petitions and upheld the order of the trial court. Khaira challenged the high court’s order in the Supreme Court, which stayed the summons to Khaira. The matter is still pending in the Supreme Court.

Allegations ‘frivolous’ 

Working on the information gathered on the basis of the Jalalabad FIR, the ED, on 9 March this year, raided Khaira’s Chandigarh residence and at least 10 other places in Punjab and Delhi, including his son-in-law Inderveer Singh Johal’s residence.

Khaira had told reporters that day that he had not done anything wrong, and all his assets were accounted for.

Khaira had immediately moved the high court against the ED and sought quashing of its investigation into the case. The ED had told the court that in just 12 years, Rs 4.86 crore were deposited in Khaira’s bank accounts, even though his total income during this period was less than Rs 1 crore. The agency added that almost Rs 84 lakh were deposited in cash.

It said “unexplained cash and property transactions” were found during a search of Khaira’s premises. The matter is still pending in the high court.

Apart from Khaira, the ED has also questioned the other accused in the case, who are lodged in various jails serving sentences ranging from two to 20 years of imprisonment.

On the basis of the material gathered from Khaira’s residence, which included among other things, a diary of accounts, the ED had, in June this year, summoned fashion designers Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi and Manish Malhotra for questioning in the case, alleging they had been paid lakhs in cash by Khaira for purchasing dresses in 2018-19.

Khaira had termed the allegations against him frivolous. He explained that he had bought three dresses from these designers for his daughter’s wedding and paid them from his bank account.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)


Also read: Punjab leader Khaira slams ‘dictator’ Arvind Kejriwal on his way out of Aam Aadmi Party


 

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