New Delhi: On Tuesday, a day after it seized the properties of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, his daughter Misa Bharti, son-in-law Shailesh Kumar and son Tejashwi Yadav, the income-tax (I-T) department, charged the four, and also Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi under the Benami Transactions Act 1988.
A senior tax department official familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity that Prasad, Devi, Bharti and Bihar’s deputy chief minister Yadav have been charged in connection with the department’s probe into benami (or proxy) transactions worth Rs1,000 crore.
The official added that “more properties of the family were likely to be attached, as investigations progressed".
The attachment notice was issued by the tax department under section 24(3) of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act; Prasad’s wife, son and daughter have been identified as beneficiaries of the benami properties, which are spread across Delhi, Gurugram, Rewari and Patna.
On 24 May, the tax department asked Bharti and her husband Kumar to make themselves available for questioning on 6 and 7 June; neither showed up.
That summons came days after Bharti’s chartered accountant, Rajesh Agrawal, was detained by the Enforcement Directorate, in connection with a Rs8,000 crore money laundering racket, involving two Delhi-based businessmen and a few politicians.
On 16 May, the I-T department raided 22 premises in Delhi and Gurugram in connection with benami land deals to the tune of Rs1,000 crore, linked to Prasad and his kin. The department said it was probing several businessmen and real estate agents as well in connection with the deals.
The RJD claimed the raids and the charges were a concerted act by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to sideline it in Bihar.
On 12 May, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad demanded, at a press conference in New Delhi, that the central government probe the land deals. He alleged that Lalu Prasad’s daughter Bharti, a Rajya Sabha member, had failed to disclose these assets in her election affidavit and demanded that the Election Commission take action against her.
The minister said the land deals dated back to the time when Prasad was the Union railway minister in the United Progressive Alliance government and also urged Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Prasad’s ally in the state, to initiate a probe in the matter.
Ravi Shankar Prasad also alleged that Bihar’s biggest shopping mall, spread over 750,000 square feet, is part of the web of dubious transactions.
A senior member of the RJD claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had adopted the same approach in Tamil Nadu—unleashing investigative agencies against opposition parties. “The political implications are too obvious to ignore. The BJP is targeting the party and the family (Lalu Prasad and family) and trying to root them out of the state," the member said.
Violations under the Benami Transactions Act 1988 carry a punishment of up to seven years of jail and a fine.
The RJD said it would fight the charges legally.
“This is a legal issue with regard to the valuation of properties, speculation, and ownership. We have a very effective legal team that is handling the case and we will fight it tooth and nail because the family is being unfairly targeted," added the RJD member.