The Enforcement Directorate on Monday questioned National Conference president Farooq Abdullah for over six hours in connection with a multi-crore scam in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, prompting accusations of 'political vendetta' by the newly-formed People's Alliance comprising several mainstream parties.
The 82-year-old former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister received the ED summons a day after the formation of the People's Alliance led by him was announced on October 15.
He was questioned at the agency's regional office in Srinagar in the case connected to the embezzlement of more than Rs 40 crore of JKCA funds during his tenure as president of the association.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has already filed a chargesheet against him and the ED is probing the money laundering angle in the case.
Emerging from the ED office after the questioning, Abdullah told reporters that courts would decide on the merits of the case.
"I am not worried. Why are you worried? The only regret I have is that I could not have my lunch as I had not brought it along."
The ED, he said, was doing their job and he was doing his.
"Our struggle (for Article 370) will go on whether Farooq Abdullah is alive or Farooq Abdullah is dead. Our resolve has not changed and our resolve will not change even If I were to be hanged," Abdullah said.
ED officials said Abdullah's statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The Lok Sabha MP and former JKCA president, who was also questioned in the case in Chandigarh in July last year, is understood to have been questioned about his role and decisions taken when the alleged fraud took place in the association.
The questioning took place four days after Jammu and Kashmir's mainstream political parties, including the NC and the People's Democratic Party, met at Abdullah's residence and formed the People's Alliance for 'Gupkar Declaration'.
The Declaration resolves to campaign constitutionally for the restoration of Article 370, under which the erstwhile state enjoyed special status.
On August 5 last year, the Centre revoked the state's special status and bifurcated the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The Alliance strongly condemned Abdullah's questioning and termed it "part of the vindictive politics practised by the central government to kill dissent and disagreement across the country and in present case to silence the genuine demand of reversal of unilateral and unconstitutional" abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A.
The ED case is based on a first information report filed by the CBI, which booked former JKCA office-bearers, including general secretary Mohammed Saleem Khan and former treasurer Ahsan Ahmad Mirza.
The CBI later filed a chargesheet in 2018 against Abdullah, Khan, Mirza as well as Mir Manzoor Gazanffer Ali (former JKCA treasurer) and former accountants Bashir Ahmad Misgar and Gulzar Ahmad Beigh for the 'misappropriation of JKCA funds amounting to Rs 43.69 crore' from grants given by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to promote the sport in the state between 2002-11.
The ED said its probe found that JKCA received Rs 94.06 crore from BCCI in three different bank accounts during financial years 2005-2006 to 2011-2012 (up to December 2011).
The ED alleged that several other bank accounts were opened in the name of the JKCA into which the funds were transferred. The bank accounts along with the existing bank accounts were later used for laundering JKCA funds.
Abdullah's son and NC leader Omar Abdullah said the ED action was '...nothing less than political vendetta' and came days after the formation of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration.
Other leaders also spoke out on the issue.
The NC's long-term rival, PDP, which has joined the Alliance, also condemned the ED's action.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released after 14 months last week, deplored the 'use of agencies to browbeat mainstream parties in J-K'.
She said the ED's 'sudden summons to Farooq sahab displays the extent of GOIs nervousness about mainstream parties in JK fighting as one unit'.
'(It) Also reeks of political vendetta and won't in the least blunt our collective resolve to fight for our rights,' she said on Twitter.
People's Conference leader Sajjad Lone echoed her.
'What a sorry state of affairs. Dr Farooq sahib summoned by ED. Reeks of vendetta. Contrary to what they want to coercively achieve this will certainly have the opposite impact,' he tweeted.
The National Conference said in a statement that the summons is clearly the 'result of the unity that Dr Sahib has been able to forge among mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir'.
'This is the price one faces when opposed to BJP's ideology and divisive politics. Recent history is a witness to how BJP has been employing coercive and intimidative measures through various departments to target opposition leaders across the country...,' it said.
The NC said 'the timing of the recent summons is very clear' as his previous summons was just before August 5 last year.
The statement said its president continues to maintain 'his innocence and will cooperate with the authorities in what is nothing but a witch hunt'.
In February this year, the ED attached assets worth Rs 2.6 crore of Mirza and Gazanfer, a member of the finance committee of the JKCA.
The agency alleged that Mirza transferred huge amounts into his personal bank accounts, and the money was further transferred or withdrawn in cash.
'Out of the laundered amounts, Rs 1.31 crore was received by Gazanffer who was a member of the finance committee of JKCA between 2006 to 2009.'
The ED claimed the committee was arbitrarily constituted by Abdullah, the then JKCA president.
According to the agency, the then 'duly elected treasurer Mukhtar Kanth resigned in 2004. Farooq Abdullah appointed Mirza as JKCA treasurer without holding elections as mandated under the JKCA Rules, 1957'.
'In the JKCA elections held in 2006, Gazanfer was elected as Treasurer of JKCA and there was a brief court stay upon his acting as Treasurer of JKCA when Farooq Abdullah continued Mirza as the treasurer of JKCA,' the ED said.
The court stay was vacated the same year and Gazanfer was not given charge of treasurer. Instead, Farooq Abdullah constituted a finance committee comprising Mirza and Gazanfer and both were empowered to jointly operate JKCA bank accounts, it said.
The two 'opened a personal bank account' in their joint names with Jammu and Kashmir Bank and crores of funds belonging to JKCA were transferred into it, the agency alleged.
The funds were either withdrawn in cash or transferred to other bank accounts including the bank account of Mirza's firm, it added.
In 2011, Mirza was elected JKCA general secretary and Farooq Abdullah president.
During the period, JKCA funds were continuously laundered, the ED alleged.