What we know about why ED is interviewing Omar Abdullah
Srinagar: Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, was interviewed by the Law Enforcement Directorate (ED) at its headquarters in the nation’s capital on Thursday, April 7, as part of a “case of 12 or 13 years”.
Abdullah, who is the vice president of the National Conference, was summoned by the anti-corruption agency last week. He arrived at ED headquarters around 11 a.m. Thursday and was interrogated for nearly five hours before being allowed to leave at 5 p.m.
“I have not been charged with anything. This is an ongoing investigation in which I have been called in for questioning. I have answered their questions as much as possible,” Abdullah told reporters outside the ED headquarters after facing investigators, adding that he would cooperate with the agency if necessary.
The ED did not specify the case in which the former J&K CM was questioned. Repeated attempts have been made by the Cable contacting Abdullah for details of the case, but no response was received. However, sources said Abdullah’s questioning is linked to alleged irregularities at Jammu and Kashmir Bank during his tenure as J&K chief minister from 2009 to 2014.
ACB to CBI to ED
Sources said Omar was questioned in connection with the bank’s purchase of a 65,000 square foot property in Bandra Kurla in Mumbai in 2010, allegedly at an exorbitant price by flouting standards. A written complaint was filed with J&K’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in connection with the 2019 purchase, following which an FIR (14/2021, dated July 10, 2021) was filed by the ‘agency.
After a preliminary ACB investigation found evidence of wrongdoing, the J&K administrator referred the matter to the CBI last year. Sources said the case involved financial irregularities, which falls under the jurisdiction of the ED. “The ED was tasked with investigating the financial irregularities, although the case was filed by the CBI,” sources said, adding that the ED investigation was being conducted under the the prevention of money laundering.
Following the downward reading of Section 370, the ACB had filed nearly a dozen lawsuits in 2019 against J&K Bank officials, including former presidents Mushtaq Ahmad Shaikh and Parvez Ahmad, the former vice -President Romesh Vaid and other bank officials for sanctioning loans on false documents, illegal appointments, criminal association and abuse of official position, among other charges.
The purchase of the Mumbai property was approved by J&K Bank’s board of directors which had set up a two-member committee headed by its then chairman, Haseeb Drabu. Although the J&K government holds a majority stake in the bank, the bank is under the control of the Reserve Bank of India. A report in the Indian To express suggested that Omar had been questioned by ED detectives about the appointment of certain directors of the bank.
The agency has already questioned another former J&K chief minister and chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, in connection with the alleged irregularities at the bank. Mehbooba’s mother was also interviewed by the agency last year.
The Union government has called the cases brought against J&K Bank officials and the questioning of senior political leaders and bank officials by central investigative agencies an attempt to crack down on alleged corruption and nepotism while by providing transparency and accountability in the operation of the bank.
However, major regional parties have accused the BJP-led government of using the agencies for political vendetta.
After Omar quit the ED seat, his party accused the BJP-led Union government of “misusing investigative agencies” for political purposes. Sources at the National Conference said the purchase had been approved by J&K Bank’s board and, as chief minister, Abdullah had no say in the matter.
“This (Omar summons) is another step in the same direction. No political party that significantly opposes the BJP has been spared, be it the ED, CBI, NIA, NCB – all have been used for political purposes… We have no doubt that this fishing expedition will not yield any concrete results for the BJP,” the National Conference said in a statement.
The party said Omar Abdullah’s summons illustrates a “vicious smear campaign that began even before August 5, 2019, when constitutional office holders like the then-governor were used to bring scurrilous accusations against opponents of the BJP, knowing full well that there was no legal recourse available to those who receive these lies,” a party spokesperson said.
The party said Abdullah was asked to appear before the central agency because he was told his presence was “necessary” for the investigation “Although it is the holy month of Ramzan and Delhi is not not his primary place of residence, Abdullah did not request a postponement or change of location and appeared in accordance with the notice,” the party statement read.
“Over the past few years, we have seen that wherever state elections are scheduled, agencies like the ED step in and target parties that pose a challenge to the BJP. Even though this exercise is political in nature, Omar Abdullah will cooperate with investigative agencies as there is no wrongdoing on his part and he is not charged in any matter under investigation,” adds the press release.
Earlier, Omar’s father and National Conference Chairman, Farooq Abdullah, was questioned by the ED over an alleged scam at the J&K Cricket Association. The agency also seized Abdullah Senior’s property worth millions of dollars in connection with the case.