The Enforcement Directorate on Thursday raided 26 locations in nine states linked to the Popular Front of India including those of its chairman O M Abdul Salam and Kerala state chief Nasarudheen Elamarom as part of a "larger" money laundering probe against the organisation, official sources said.
The PFI, formed in 2006 in Kerala and headquartered in Delhi, called the raids a gimmick and an attempt to divert attention from the farmers' issue.
The nationwide searches are being conducted at Chennai, Tenkasi and Madurai (Tamil Nadu); Bengaluru; Darbhanga and Purnea (Bihar); Lucknow and Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh); Aurangabad in Maharashtra; Kolkata and Murshidabad (West Bengal); Jaipur; Shaheen Bagh area in Delhi and in Kochi, Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, they said.
The central probe agency is investigating PFI's "financial links" on alleged charges of fuelling the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in the country, the Delhi riots that took place in February and few other instances.
Official sources said the action against PFI was aimed at collecting evidence in multiple money laundering cases that have been clubbed into one as part of a "larger" probe against it.
The ED has also brought under its scanner, sources said, the activities of PFI operatives in criminal cases like the Kerala gold smuggling case, the conspiracy and attack on two police stations during the Bengaluru riots in August, suspect movement of funds in the aftermath of an alleged gangrape and death of a Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras district, and some other instances.
The premises of Salam and Elamarom, also PFI's national secretary, in Kerala are also being covered apart from some other office bearers of the organisation, they said.
The ED had earlier recorded the statement of Salam, a senior assistant in the Kerala State Electricity Board, and a number of other PFI office bearers in Delhi and had said they were "not able to explain specific sources of their funds and their specific disbursal."
The PFI said its activities are "transparent" and out in the public and that they had nothing to hide.
"Simultaneous raids were carried out by ED at the houses of Popular Front national leaders across the country. We believe this to be a politically motivated action from the part of the agency. Such raids usually happen in our country whenever the government in power comes under the pressure of popular anger and it wants to divert national attention from it."
"The Modi government has always used national agencies against its political opponents and to crush dissent in the country to the point that the credibility of these agencies has come under question," the organisation said in a statement.
The central government has come under immense pressure following the farmers' protests blockading Delhi and the ED raids are nothing but a "gimmick" to divert the issue, it said.
It said authorities "intend to prevent the organisation from its fight against the anti-constitutional CAA-NRC, as it is a forerunner and stays a major force in the citizenship agitations across the country".
The ED, last month, had said it was probing "financial links" between the PFI and Bhim Army in its money laundering case registered to investigate allegations of illegal funds being used to "fuel" the anti-CAA protests.
The Bhim Army, led by its chief Chandrashekhar Azad, had told PTI that they were ready for all kinds of investigation.
The agency first began investigating the PFI on money laundering charges in 2018 as part of its first FIR filed under the PMLA.
The sources had said a total amount of Rs 120.50 crore, credited to 73 bank accounts linked to the PFI, a linked entity called Rehab India Foundation (RFI) and few other entities and individuals over the last year are under the ED's scanner.
Agency officials said RFI allegedly received Rs 50 lakh foreign contribution from three foreign entities even though it did not have a FCRA registration.
The sources had claimed that these dubious deposits were either made in cash or through the immediate payment service.
Sources, quoting the ED findings, had said the withdrawal of money from the bank accounts linked to PFI and its related entities had a "direct correlation" with the violent demonstrations against the CAA and that "disproportionately high cash deposits and withdrawals were seen in many accounts."
The ED earlier had sent a report on these findings to the Union home ministry.
The agency had also arrested former Delhi Aam Aadmi Party councillor Tahir Hussain in August and alleged that cash received by him was used to "fuel" anti-CAA protests and the Delhi riots.
"The probe revealed that companies owned and controlled by Tahir Hussain and his relatives transferred huge amounts of money to dubious entities and entry operators which was returned by them in cash," it had said.
"The cash received by Tahir Hussain through entry operators was used to fuel the anti-CAA protests and Delhi riots," the agency had said in a statement.