The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday raided the premises of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's brother in connection with a money laundering case linked to an alleged fertiliser export scam, officials said.
The action came after the central probe agency filed a criminal Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), ED equivalent of a police first information report, in a 2007-09 Customs department case where it was alleged that irregularities took place in the procurement and export of subsidised Muriate of Potash (MOP) meant for farmers and investigation in this case was finalised in 2013.
The ED took cognisance of the Customs FIR and a charge sheet was filed by it on July 13 in this case to press money laundering charges to probe a 'smuggling syndicate' allegedly run by Ashok Gehlot's elder brother Agrasain Gehlot, his firm Anupam Krishi and others, they said.
The agency said the case pertains to fraudulent export of MOP, a restricted commodity for exports, in the guise of industrial salts to buyers based in Malaysia and Taiwan.
Its export is restricted so that it is available to Indian farmers, they said.
ED sleuths wearing protective suits to combat COVID-19 infection were assisted by personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), who were seen standing guard at the farmhouse and residence of the Gehlots in Mandore area of Jodhpur district, to carry out the searches.
The raids come at a time when a political slugfest is currently on between Chief Minister Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot.
Pilot, a former Union minister, was recently sacked as the deputy chief minister and state party chief.
Responding to the raids, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala told reporters in Jaipur, "Prime Minister Modi has created 'raid raj' in the country but we are not going to be scared."
When the Centre's 'gimmicks' failed to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan, ED raids started at the premises of Gehlot's elder brother, he said.
The agency, officials said, searched at least six locations in the desert state including at the premises of a former Congress MP, who is alleged to have business ties with Agrasain Gehlot.
They said the raids were conducted by the central probe agency at a total of 13 places in the country including Rajasthan, West Bengal (2), Gujarat (4) and Delhi (1).
In Kolkata, ED officials raided an alleged hawala dealer in the Salt Lake area while some people in Ahmedabad were also searched.
Agency sources said Agrasain Gehlot and his firm were slapped with over Rs 60 crore penalties by the Customs for these alleged export irregularities in 2013.
It is alleged that Gehlot's company allegedly 'diverted' 35,000 metric tonnes of MOP that had a value of Rs 130 crore in international market.
The ED alleged Gehlot, in his capacity of being a dealer, was the custodian of the MOP and was 'solely responsible' for its proper distribution to the farmers and his alleged connivance with a company Saraf Impex Pvt Ltd and others resulted in the diversion of MOP that was imported by Indian Potash Limited at concessional rate of duty.
The ED raids are aimed to collect evidence of money laundering in this scam case, officials said.
The agency is also probing an alleged forex law violation case against a Jaipur-based businessman Ratan Kant Sharma, who is alleged to have had business ties with Ashok Gehlot's son Vaibhav in the past.
The Income Tax Department on July 13 had carried out multiple raids at over 40 premises of three Rajasthan-based business groups on tax evasion charges and officials had said it seized about Rs 12 crore cash and vital documents.
The premises linked to two state Congress leaders and a business group stated to be close to the top party leadership of Rajasthan were searched.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes had later said that 'several incriminating evidences in the form of loose papers, diaries, digital data were found that indicate bullion trading in cash, investment of cash in properties among others'.