India’s financial crimes agency has arrested a top opposition leader, hours after he resigned from the position of the chief minister of Jharkhand state.
Hemant Soren, of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party, has been accused of corruption. He denies the allegations.
He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday evening after seven hours of questioning.
His party has named transport minister Champai Soren as the next chief minister of the eastern state.
Mr Soren has challenged his arrest in India’s Supreme Court, calling it politically motivated. The matter will be heard on Friday.
He is the latest in a long list of opposition leaders who are facing high-profile investigations led by India’s central agencies.
The case against Mr Soren relates to a piece of land he allegedly owns in Ranchi city, the capital of Jharkhand.
The ED claims he bought the property through “proceeds of crime” by illegally selling land owned by the Indian army.
Mr Soren denies the charge and claims the property was “wrongfully alleged to be owned” by him.
The ED officials reportedly sent multiple summons to Mr Soren but he refused to appear for questioning.
On Monday, officials reached Mr Soren’s residence in capital Delhi but found he was “missing”. The agency said it seized 3.6m rupees ($43,381; £34,202) and a car from the house.
A day later, Mr Soren surfaced in Ranchi and said he would record his statement before the agency on Wednesday.
A curfew was imposed within a 100-metre radius of the chief minister’s residence and the ED office in Ranchi on Wednesday evening.
Few hours later, Mr Soren submitted his resignation, following which his loyalist Champai Soren was announced as the next chief minister. Hemant Soren was arrested later in the night.
The JMM has called the investigation against Mr Soren a politically motivated “witch-hunt”.
The party accused the federal government, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of using central agencies to target opposition leaders ahead of the general elections. The BJP, meanwhile, denies allegations of political interference.
India’s main opposition Congress party also condemned Mr Soren’s arrest, calling it a “blow to federalism”. The JMM is a part of INDIA, the Congress-led coalition of opposition parties that is seeking to take on the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the elections.
“The BJP, which is steeped in corruption, is running a campaign to destroy democracy,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
Several other chief ministers and opposition leaders are facing corruption allegations.
The ED is also investigating money laundering allegations against the chief ministers of three southern states – Telangana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. All the leaders have denied the charges against them.
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