Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut was released from jail on Wednesday, hours after he was granted bail by a court in an alleged money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that was sharply rebuked for arresting the politician "illegally" with a "pick-and-choose attitude".
He emerged from the Arthur Road Jail in central Mumbai to a huge welcome from members of the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena, waving a saffron scarf from the sunroof of an SUV.
"The observations of the court are in front of you. I have never done anything wrong in my life. I will never forget this. I have nothing against anyone. The law has given me justice. I am thankful to these institutions," he said.
Mr Raut's release was also cleared by the Bombay High Court, which refused to put the bail on hold as requested by the central agency tasked with probing financial crimes.
Stating that it cannot pass such an order without hearing both parties, the high court listed the matter for hearing on Thursday.
"I have not even looked at the order. I don't know on what grounds bail has been granted. I don't know on what grounds you (the ED) have challenged the order. How can I grant a stay now without even hearing the parties," High Court Justice Bharati Dangre said.
A special court earlier in the day granted bail to Mr Raut and co-accused Pravin Raut while rejecting the ED's request to stay the effect of the order till Friday.
In scathing observations in the order against the Enforcement Directorate, judge MG Deshpande called the agency's actions a "witch-hunt", and said, "I hold that both accused are basically arrested illegally."
"Simply labelling pure civil disputes with 'money laundering' or 'Economic Offence' cannot automatically acquire such status and ultimately drag an innocent person into a miserable situation in the guise of arrest... Court has to do what is right, irrespective of who is before it," the judge said.
"From the records materials and the detailed discussion made, it is clear how Pravin Raut is arrested for pure civil litigation, whereas Sanjay Raut for no reason. This truth is glaring," the order read.
The ED arrested Sanjay Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP and a vocal critic of the BJP government at the centre, on August 1 accusing him of financial irregularities in connection with the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl tenement in suburban Goregaon.
The court said the conduct of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which filed the case, was "suspicious right from the beginning".
"MHADA's attitude of lodging such an FIR (First Information Report) one fine can neither throw dust in the eyes of the court nor can it brush and wash out long civil litigations," it said.
It was an "astonishing admitted fact that main accused Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan of HDIL, who had not only generated over Rs 1,000 crore, but also allegedly placed, layered and integrated the same, were never arrested by the ED," the court said.
"At the same time, Sanjay Raut and Pravin Raut were arrested. This clearly indicates disparity, and ED's pick-and-choose attitude," it said.