NEW DELHI – The Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioned former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah for five hours on Thursday in connection with a case related to the purchase of a building by the J&K Bank about 12 years ago when he was in office, officials said here.
The National Conference (NC) termed the move a “vicious vilification” campaign by the Centre and an attempt by the government to silence the voice of its opposition ahead of a possible announcement of the elections to the union territory.
The NC leader arrived at the federal probe agency’s headquarters at 11 am on Thursday where his statement was recorded in connection with the case that was registered by the ED earlier this year, they said.
Emerging from the ED office, Abdullah said he was not an accused in the case.
“They called me for questioning in connection with an ongoing investigation in a nearly 12-year-old case. I answered them as much as I could. I will further help them if they need me. They did not accuse me of anything,” he said.
According to the officials, the case pertains to the purchase of the J&K Bank’s building in Bandra Kurla in 2010, when former finance minister of the erstwhile state Haseeb Drabu was its chairman.
According to them, a two-member committee headed by Drabu was formed to look for a building in Mumbai, and based on their recommendation, the building, which is the biggest asset of the bank as of date, was cleared for purchase.
The role of the former chief minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state in the bank was limited to approving the appointment of its chairperson.
Bank officials, in the know of the rules, said the chief minister had no role to play in the day-to-day running of the bank.
The state government, which is the major promoter in the bank with a little over 68 per cent share, is represented in the bank by the chief secretary with 64.20 per cent shares and the finance secretary with 3.83 per cent shares. The chief secretary at that point was S S Kapur.
It was alleged that the bank had approved the purchase of a 42,000-square foot property for Rs 109 crore, but eventually, the committee and the then board of the financial institution approved the purchase of 65,000 square feet of property at a cost of Rs 172 crore.
Meanwhile, the National Conference (NC) flayed the ED’s move to question Abdullah, terming it a “vicious vilification” of the former chief minister and a continued misuse of the central investigation agency.
An NC spokesperson said there was a time when polls were announced by the Election Commission but now it seems that they are announced by the ED.
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
He said the summons to their 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 that 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 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.