Sanjay Raut | Photo: ANI
Mumbai: Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut stepped out of jail on Wednesday evening after a special court in Mumbai granted him bail in a money laundering case related to the Patra Chawl redevelopment project in which he had been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on August 1 this year.
With the Bombay High Court refusing to grant urgent stay to the bail order, Raut, a close confidante of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, left the Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai hundred days after his arrest under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. While granting him and co-accused Pravin Raut bail, the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act court judge M G Deshpande questioned why the ED did not arrest the main accused, Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan of realty firm HDIL.
The court also rejected ED lawyer Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh's plea urging it not to give effect to the bail order till Friday. The ED then moved the HC. But the high court refused to grant urgent stay, stating that it can not pass such an order without hearing both the parties, and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday. Hundreds of Shiv Sena workers gathered outside the Arthur Road jail awaiting Sanjay Raut's release and burst firecrackers. `Sainiks' also assembled outside Raut's residence in suburban Bhandup and Uddhav Thackeray's residence `Matoshree" in Bandra.
At 6.50 pm, 61-year-old Sanjay Raut stepped out of the prison. Uddhav Thackeray described him as a "fighter who never succumbed to pressure". "Tiger is back," said Sushma Andhare, spokesperson of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction. "I'm thankful to the court," a visibly emotional Sanjay Raut told the special judge when the bail order was announced. In the detailed order, the court said Sanjay Raut's arrest was “illegal” and a "witch-hunt”.
The reason the agency did not arrest concerned officials of MHADA and other government departments was "nothing, but conveying a message to then Union agriculture minister and then (Maharashtra) chief minister, creating a fear psyche in their mind that they are the next in this queue," the judge said without naming the politicians in question. As per the charge sheet, meetings related to the redevelopment of Patra Chawl had been attended by Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) officials, Sanjay Raut as well as "then Union agriculture minister and chief minister" in 2006-07. It was an “astonishing admitted fact that main accused Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan of HDIL, who had not only generated over Rs 1,000 crore, but also allegedly placed, layered and integrated the same, were never arrested by the ED," the court further said.
"Basically, there was no reason nor any occasion to arrest both of them (Sanjay Raut and co-accused Pravin Raut)....for the allegations which are basically nothing but a civil dispute," the court said, while also slamming the ED for not taking its cases to logical conclusion. After leaving the court, Sanjay Raut visited the famous Siddhivinayak temple. “The only Sena which is real is the one founded by Balasaheb Thackeray and now being led by Uddhav Thackeray,” he said.
“The saffron flag which has been fluttering atop the BMC (Mumbai civic body) for the last 30-35 years will continue," he added, referring to coming BMC polls.
The ED's probe pertained to alleged financial irregularities in the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl and related financial transactions involving Sanjay Raut's wife and associates. Siddharth Nagar, popularly known as the Patra Chawl, in Goregaon is spread over 47 acres and houses 672 tenant families. In 2008, MHADA, a government agency, assigned a redevelopment contract for the Chawl to Guru Ashish Construction Private Limited (GACPL), a sister company of the Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL).
The GACPL was supposed to build 672 flats for the tenants and also give some flats to MHADA. It was free to sell the remaining land to private developers. But the tenants did not get a single flat in the last 14 years as the company did not redevelop the Patra Chawl and sold land parcels and Floor Space Index (FSI) to other builders for Rs 1,034 crore, as per the ED played a major role in the money laundering case.