Gujarat HC grants bail to suspended IAS officer in money laundering case

Gandhinagar, March 8 Suspended Gujarat cadre IAS officer Pradeep Sharma was granted bail by the Gujarat High Court on Thursday in a money laundering case being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), his lawyer said.

Rejecting the central government's request for a stay on the bail till it approaches the Supreme Court, Justice A.J. Desai ordered for Sharma's release on bail, advocate H.B. Champavat said.

Sharma was arrested on July 31, 2016, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after the Supreme Court vacated an interim stay on his arrest.

A special PMLA court had denied bail to Sharma on January 4, after which he approached the High Court. 

Sharma got bail as the Supreme Court had read down Section 45 of the PMLA for laying down stringent bail conditions.

Based on the cases lodged by CID (Crime) and Anti-Corruption Bureau of the state government, the ED had registered a case against Sharma. 

The cases relate to an alleged sanction of government land at cheaper rate to Welspun India Limited and its group companies Welspun Power and Steel and Welspun Gujarat Style Rohran in Kutch district as part of the suspected quid pro quo.

According to the probe agency, Sharma had allegedly sanctioned the land to Welspun in 2004 when he was the Collector and Chairman of District Land Evaluation and Pricing Committee of Kutch. This allegedly caused a loss of Rs 1.2 crore to the state exchequer. 

The ED alleged that the IAS officer received Rs 22 lakh in his wife Shyamal P. Sharma's name in lieu of clearing the land sale.

The ED's charge sheet names five others who allegedly helped in transferring this money into Sharma's wife's account through hawala channels.

In his plea in the Supreme Court earlier, Sharma had claimed he was being victimised by the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and had sought a CBI probe. The plea was rejected by the apex court.