With a fresh round of questioning of suspects, the Enforcement Directorate is set to intensify its probe into a money laundering case filed to investigate allegations of illegal funds being used to "fuel" anti-CAA protests, official sources said on Friday. They said the agency has unearthed some chats between some senior office bearers of the Popular Front of India (PFI) and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, and it will seek clarifications from them.
"The ED is investigating financial links between PFI and Bhim Army on the basis of credible evidence recovered from senior PFI officials," the agency tweeted. The tweet was in response to a news report that said the ED has found "no links" between the Bhim Army and the PFI.
Official sources said the chats found between individuals of the two groups indicated talks about certain activities in the Jama Masjid area during the anti-Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) protests. The central probe agency is also expected to question some other linked people in this case which it is probing under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The ED, in August, had arrested former Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor Tahir Hussain in this case and alleged that cash received by him was used to "fuel" anti-CAA protests and the Delhi riots that took place in February. Hussain, the agency claimed, has been "arrested in connection with an ongoing PMLA investigation into his role in money laundering and funding of anti-CAA protests and organising riots in north-east Delhi during February, 2020".
The ED had booked Hussain and others after studying multiple FIRs of the Delhi Police crime branch to probe the riots. "The probe revealed that companies owned and controlled by Tahir Hussain and his relatives transferred huge amounts of money to dubious entities and entry operators which was returned by them in cash," it said.
"The cash received by Tahir Hussain through entry operators was used to fuel the anti-CAA protests and Delhi riots," the agency had said in a statement. The agency, which is investigating the PFI under the PMLA since 2018, has alleged "financial links" between these protests and the Kerala-based organisation.
It had questioned several PFI office bearers in the past. The ED had said that at least Rs 1.04 crore was deposited in several bank accounts linked to the organisation between December 4 last year and January 6 this year in various parts of the country.
The sources said a total amount of Rs 120 crore, credited to bank accounts linked to the PFI, are under the ED's scanner. The PFI had repeatedly denied these charges.
"The Popular Front of India has stated it multiple times that we fully comply with the law of the land and the allegation of Rs 120 crore transferred from the Popular Front's accounts just before the CAA protests is totally baseless and the people who are levelling these allegations should prove these claims," the organisation had said in a statement. The sources claimed that these dubious deposits were either made in cash or through the immediate payment service (IMPS) and a number of such instances were seen in Uttar Pradesh, where the maximum number of violent anti-CAA protests were reported to have taken place.
Quoting the ED findings, the sources said, the withdrawal of money from the bank accounts linked to PFI and its related entities had a "direct correlation" with the violent demonstrations against the CAA. It is suspected and alleged that these funds were used by PFI affiliates to fuel the anti-CAA protests in various parts of Uttar Pradesh and other locations, the sources had said.
The ED had also sent a report in this connection to the Union Home Ministry.
(With inputs from PTI)