Omar Abdullah – KO File Photo
New Delhi- The ED questioned NC leader Omar Abdullah on Thursday in connection with the purchase of a building by J&K Bank some 12 years ago when he was Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, a move the party termed a “political exercise” ahead of the Assembly elections in the union territory.
After spending more than five hours at the ED office here in response to summons sent last week, Abdullah told reporters that he had not been accused of anything and that he had “answered them as much as I could”. He would further help them “if they need me”, he added.
According to officials, the case pertains to the purchase of a building by the J&K Bank, in which the government has 68 per cent equity, at Bandra Kurla in 2010. A property measuring around 65,000 square feet was acquired at a cost of Rs 172 crores.
Sources said the board of directors of the bank had set up a two-member committee headed by its chairman Haseeb Drabu which recommended the purchase of the property, in which another leading bank was also interested. The purchase was approved by the bank board, and the chief minister had no say in the matter, the sources added.
While Abdullah refused to divulge details about his questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the National Conference (NC) slammed the move as a “vicious vilification” and “fishing expedition” ahead of the Assembly elections expected to be held later this year in Jammu and Kashmir.
“There was a time when elections were announced by the Election Commission, but now, it seems that elections are announced by the ED,” the party alleged in a statement, which also said that the ED’s action was another case of misuse of investigative agencies by the central government.
According to the sources, Abdullah maintained during the questioning that as chief minister, he had no role in the purchase of the building. The bank was subject to the supervision of the RBI.
To media reports that Abdullah was staying in New Delhi at a property associated with former director of the bank Nikhil Garware, NC sources said that the party had rented out a flat in the national capital for use as its vice-president’s residence as well as an office where he holds meetings with party MPs and others.
“There is a rent agreement between the NC and a Mumbai company for it. Rent is regularly paid by cheque from the party accounts,” they said.
Slamming the questioning of Abdullah by the ED, the NC further said, “Over recent years, we have seen that wherever state elections are due, agencies like the ED move in and target those parties who pose a challenge to the BJP.”
A party spokesperson said the summons to its vice-president is in the same vein. “We have no doubt that this fishing expedition will yield no concrete results to the BJP and the people will give a ringing endorsement to the National Conference as and when required.”
The spokesperson said Abdullah had been asked to appear before the ED in Delhi on the grounds that his attendance was necessary in connection with an investigation.
“In spite of it being the holy month of Ramzan, and Delhi not being his primary place of residence, Mr Abdullah did not seek a postponement or a change of venue and appeared as per the notice,” he said.
The party alleged that the central government has “made a habit of misusing investigative agencies” and Thursday’s questioning of Abdullah was “another step in the same direction”.
“No political party that puts up meaningful opposition to the BJP has been spared, whether it is the ED, CBI, NIA, NCB all have been used for political purposes,” the NC spokesperson said.
The party said the summons is another step in the “vicious vilification” campaign that started even before August 5, 2019, when constitutional position holders like the then governor were used to make “slanderous accusations” against opponents of the BJP, knowing well that there was no legal recourse available to those at the receiving end of these “lies”.
Even though this exercise is political in nature, Abdullah will cooperate with investigative agencies as there is no wrongdoing on his part and he is not an accused in any matter under investigation, the spokesperson said.
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