By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Feb 23 (IANS): A special PMLA court in Mumbai on Wednesday remanded Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik to eight-day ED custody till March 3, nearly 15 hours after his pre-dawn dramatic detention, interrogation and arrest in an alleged money-laundering case arising out of a tainted land deal.
Malik was produced by the Enforement Directorate (ED) before the special court eight hours after his detention and arrest on Wednesday evening, following which a furious legal battle ensued for his 14-day remand with the defence team opposing the same.
The development gave a massive jolt to the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government as Malik became the first sitting Cabinet minister to be arrested, sending tremors in the political circles.
After a series of meetings with top leaders of Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress, it was decided that irrespective of the court orders, Malik would not be compelled to resign as the Minority Affairs Minister.
On Wednesday afternoon, ED Assistant Director Niraj Kumar said in his arrest order that the agency had "reason to believe" that Malik "has been found guilty of an offence punishable under the provisions of PMLA," and accordingly placed him under arrest at 2.45 pm.
Shortly after the formal arrest, Malik was whisked away by an ED team to a government hospital for a medical check-up from where he was taken to the designated special PMLA court.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh represented the ED while senior counsel Amit Desai appeared on Malik's behalf, as the minister's colleagues, political activists and relatives reached the court.
While he was escorted out of the ED office by the CISF, police and ED staff, a grinning Malik in a white kurta-pyjama was seen raising a fist in the air, and declaring: "Jhookenge Nahin, Ladenge Aur Jeetenge" (Will not succumb, will fight and win) to his supporters as he was made to sit in a vehicle.
The fast-paced developments started with an ED team along with a CISF team knocking at Malik's home at around 4.30 am and taking him away a couple of hours later for questioning in the 17-year-old Kurla land deal case having a mafia taint, with an alleged money-laundering angle emerging from it.
The ED had deployed teams of the CISF and Mumbai Police for the operation even as a large number of NCP workers staged a noisy protest outside the agency's office since morning to protest against the detention of Malik.
Malik, 62, became the first sitting minister and the second senior NCP leader in the MVA government to be arrested by the ED. Former Home Minister Anil Deshmukh was arrested by the ED on November 2, 2021 in alleged corruption and money-laundering cases.
Malik's arrest triggered hectic political activity with NCP President Sharad Pawar rushing to meet Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal Balasaheb Thorat, Ashok Chavan and others in an urgent meeting held on Wednesday evening.
The MVA partners and top leaders like Pawar, Jayant Patil, Supriya Sule, Majeed Memon, Chhagan Bhujbal, Vidya Chavan, Sanjay Raut, Kishore Tiwari, Nana Patole, Chavan, Naseem Khan, and others slammed the ED for the action against Malik, saying they would not be "cowed down" by the vendetta politics and targetting of opponents, and "silencing" them by letting loose central probe agencies on them.
Simultaneously, the opposition BJP sharpened its swords and intensified efforts to bring down the MVA government before its declared deadline of March 10.
Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis termed the matter as "extremely serious" since the land worth crores of rupees was allegedly grabbed at a throwaway price with persons linked to absconding mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, colluding with enemies of the country, and the proceeds were laundered for terror funding and anti-national activities.
BJP state President Chandrakant Patil demanded that since Malik has been arrested, he should quit, as also all other ministers facing various allegations should resign from the Cabinet immediately, failing which the BJP would launch an agitation on the streets.
The MVA leaders announced a sit-in at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi near Mantralaya at Nariman Point on Thursday morning, besides announcing statewide protests against Malik's arrests, highlighting how the central probe agencies are being misused to topple the Maharashtra government and other states ruled by the Opposition parties.