West Bengal Industry and Commerce Minister Partha Chatterjee, who is also secretary general of the Trinamool Congress, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate Saturday in connection with its investigation into the alleged school jobs scam.
Chatterjee, who was state Education Minister when the alleged scam took place, was arrested after being questioned for nearly 24 hours.
His close associate Arpita Mukherjee was detained for questioning and later arrested. Two others detained were being questioned.
During searches Friday, the ED claimed to have recovered Rs 21.20 crore unaccounted cash in bundles, foreign currency, ornaments and property papers from Mukherjee’s apartment in Diamond City South, Haridevpur.
The bundles of cash are suspected to be proceeds of the alleged scam. On Saturday, trunks were brought to the apartment to take away the seized cash and items.
As she was led away from her home, Mukherjee said, “It’s a big conspiracy… I haven’t done anything unethical.”
At a press conference, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said, “The money recovered from the house of one woman has no connection with the TMC. The woman is not a TMC member. The TMC has no connection with this incident. As far as Partha Chatterjee is concerned, the matter is in the court now. We have full faith in the judiciary. If anyone is found guilty or allegations against him are proven, only then action will be initiated against him by the party and the government.”
Following his arrest, Chatterjee was taken to the ESI Hospital in Joka for medical examination and then produced before the Bankshall court which sent him to ED custody for two days.
According to ED sources, Chatterjee will be produced in court again Monday.
Chatterjee was later admitted to the SSKM Hospital after he complained of chest pain. “Partha Chatterjee isn’t feeling well. He has developed heartache. We demanded before court that if ED custody is granted, then proper medical facilities should be given to him,” said his lawyer Somnath Mukherjee.
The agency, which is probing the money trail aspect of the alleged school recruitment scam being investigated by the CBI, will press charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
As he left the hospital, Chatterjee was asked by reporters whether he tried to contact Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “I tried but could not get through,” he said.
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In April and May this year, the CBI had questioned Chatterjee. On the direction of the Calcutta High Court, the CBI is investigating alleged irregularities in the recruitment of Group C & D staff and teachers in government and aided schools on the recommendations of the West Bengal School Service Commission.
The ED is investigating the money laundering aspect of the alleged recruitment scam — crores of rupees allegedly changed hands for the appointment of teachers recruited through the SSC.
The notification for appointment of teachers in state-run schools through SLST (State Level Selection Test) for teachers was published in 2014 and the recruitment process started in 2016.
A series of petitions were later filed in the Calcutta High Court alleging anomalies in the recruitment process. The petitioners said many examinees who obtained low marks ranked high in the merit list. There were also allegations that some applicants, who were not even in the merit list, received appointment letters.
In the second case, the state government had issued a notification in 2016 to the School Service Commission (SSC) for recruitment of 13,000 employees for state-run/aided schools. In 2019, the term of the panel making the appointments ran out. Petitioners claimed that at least 25 people were appointed through SSC after the term of the panel expired. Later, petitioners put the number of appointments at over 500.