The Centre had warned West Bengal about the possibility of chit fund companies duping people back in 2009, but the state government took no action and “allowed” it to continue, the CBI has informed the Supreme Court in an additional affidavit filed in apex court.
The agency has also pointed to a “larger conspiracy” behind the scam, and referred to two instances to buttress its claim: first, Rs 6.21 crore given to a TV channel that is part of the Saradha Group, which is facing heat in the case; and the sale of West Bengal Chief Minister’s paintings amounting to Rs 6.5 crores by a newspaper run by the TMC.
The affidavit does not name the CM, but it is ostensibly a reference to Mamata Banerjee.
The apex court is seized of applications by the CBI seeking contempt action against officials of West Bengal Police for allegedly trying to interfere with the probe. The agency moved court after developments in Kolkata on February 3, when its team probing the scam was allegedly held hostage when the officials went to question then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar.
The affidavit stated that by a letter dated November 4, 2009, the Union Finance Ministry had, on the basis of inputs from the Intelligence Bureau, “written to then Chief Secretary, West Bengal, clearly red flagging the mobilisation of deposits by a number of corporate entities with questionable credentials, including the Sharada [Saradha] Group of companies and flagging the possibility of duping innocent customers through Ponzi schemes.”
The CPI(M)-led Left Front was in power in West Bengal at the time.
The agency pointed out that “despite the said warning, as early as in 2009, the State authorities, purportedly in connivance with accused, allowed the unabated operations/duping of innocent investors”.
By letters dated September 4 and October 29, 2018, the CBI sought details of action taken regarding the Finance Ministry’s communication from the state Chief Secretary, but “no reply to the request has been received to either of the letters”.
In June 2010, Tapas Pal, Lok Sabha MP from TMC, wrote to the then Union Finance Minister about “illegal collection of money from innocent people by several companies without having any authorisation from RBI or SEBI by various fraudulent/ponzi schemes”.
The affidavit states, “The said letter/complaint was inquired into by CID, West Bengal, and a communication was sent to Police Directorate, West Bengal on 08.09.2010 stating inter-alia that the victims were yet to be traced and appropriate steps would be taken in due course on receipt of specific complaints”.
The CBI said it had requested the state for information on Pal’s complaint and subsequent probe by the CID, first on May 10, 2016 and many times thereafter.
A reply was received from the police directorate on October 26, 2018, more than two years after the first request was made, and said that “files were yet to be traced”, the affidavit mentioned.
On the alleged payments to Tara TV, which is a part of the Saradha Group, the affidavit states, “Curiously, (an) amount of more than Rs 6.21 crores has been already given from the CM Relief Fund (usually meant for helping victims of natural/unnatural calamities)…”, and “the CM Relief fund has regularly sent the amounts (at the rate Rs 27 lakh per month) for a period of 23 months from May 2013 to April 2015”.
The agency also submitted that Jago Bangla sold “various paintings drawn by the Chief Minister of West Bengal amounting to a total of approx. (Rs) 6.5 crores”. It added, “while the sale may not itself be circumspect, it must be noted that numerous such painting were bought by Ponzi companies or directors of such companies purportedly to delay/stop initiation of inquiry…”