The West Bengal CID is on a nationwide hunt for a former superintendent of police and promotee IPS officer, who was once believed to be close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, over alleged undeclared assets. With Bharati Ghosh declared missing, reportedly along with a constable bodyguard, her husband M A V Raju is being questioned to find her whereabouts.
Ghosh, meanwhile, has been contacting the media through audio messages, sent from undisclosed locations, denouncing the “witch-hunt” against her. Raju, a senior executive with Calcutta Stock Exchange, against whom a search warrant was issued along with her on February 9, has got interim bail until March 15.
The 56-year-old former police officer was once posted in Maoist-affected Midnapore, and the Opposition, including both the BJP and the Congress, have demanded a CBI probe, accusing the Trinamool Congress government of going after Ghosh as she had information about huge overnight gold transactions following demonetisation and crucial details regarding the death of senior Maoist leader Kishenji alias Koteshwar Rao in West Midnapore in November 2011.
CID DIG (Operations) Nishat Parvez said “everything is being done as per law”. On Ghosh’s claim that she had declared all her properties, Parvez said, “We will see that in court… We have seized crores of rupees, not all are declared (by the accused).”
The case began a month ago when, on February 1, an eatery owner, Chandan Majhi, lodged a complaint at Ghatal subdivisional court in West Midnapore alleging extortion and cheating against police. The court directed the CID to investigate. On February 2, the CID conducted raids at a house reportedly owned by Raju, and lodged a complaint against sub-inspector Pradip Rath, assistant SI Debhashis Das, constable Sanjoy Mahoto and a gold trader, Bimal Ghorai.
In his complaint, Majhi alleged that he had sold 375 grams gold jewellery to a police officer under a “scheme” where banned notes were used to buy gold, with a false receipt date, during the month following the November 8, 2016, demonetisation. Majhi, a proclaimed offender in police records, claimed he never got his payment.
On February 7, police lodged another FIR, this time also naming Ghosh. Yunus Ali Mondol, a resident of North 24-Parganas, lodged a complaint with the same Ghatal court against Ghosh, her former assistant Sujit Mondal, sub-inspector Charanjit Ghosh and officer-in-charge of Kharagpur police station Rajshekhar Payne. Mondol alleged that on September 24, 2016, the West Midnapore police seized two bags from his car on National Highway 6 near Sadapur (West Midnapore) and never returned the money. His two previous petitions before this on the matter, to the state home department and Calcutta High Court, had not resulted in any action.
A series of raids followed in different parts of West Bengal after the two complaints, including at the residences of Ghosh and police officers known to be close to her. The CID claims to have recovered about 50 original land sale deeds amounting to around Rs 300 crore, tablets, pen drives, hard disks, gold jewellery, apart from “57 sealed bottles of imported scotch whisky”, in the raids; as well as 1.1 kg gold jewellery reportedly from Ghosh’s lockers with a nationalised bank which are now sealed; Rs 2 crore in cash from a flat in Bansdroni owned allegedly by a close acquaintance of Ghosh and Raju; and Rs 2.4 crore from a flat in Madurdaha near Kolkata, whose ownership is being verified.
Six of the accused are under arrest, including sub-inspector Rath, asistant SI Das, and two other police officials: inspector Subhankar De, circle inspector of Ghatal; and Chitta Pal, officer-in-charge of Ghatal.
Pinaki Bhattacharya, the advocate representing Ghosh, accuses the CID of first “planting the money, gold etc” and then showing recoveries. Expressing his surprise at the “alertness” shown by the CID in registering a case and starting raids within three hours, Bhattacharya says, “Bharati Ghosh disclosed her assets like flats, locker gold in 1994 and 2017 to the government. It’s political vendetta. The CID’s case will not stand in court.”
As for Ghosh’s land acquisitions, Bhattacharya claims, “All land had been purchased legally and with the permission of the government. She wanted to open an old age home in Jhargram. Since a big plot was not available, she purchased small plots.”
After the second FIR was filed against her, Ghosh had circulated an audio message saying, “They have made an international cow smuggler lodge a complaint against me… I will see the CID in court. I will fight this battle.”
The police action against Ghosh has come as a surprise as she was once known for her proximity to the Trinamool regime. A police officer who has served in several UN missions, she was promoted to the IPS and allocated the West Bengal cadre in 2010. She returned to Bengal from a UN mission in mid-2011, after Mamata became CM, and was soon posted as the SP of West Midnapore with additional charge of Jhargram, the Maoist-affected districts that the Trinamool government had made its focal area of concern. She held the post for five years. In 2014, she was awarded the CM’s medal for commendable service.
Trinamool circles, however, claim that Ghosh was actually close to Mukul Roy. And that after the senior Trinamool leader left the party in September 2017, and moved to the BJP in November 2017, Ghosh’s fortunes turned. On December 25, when she was transferred as commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the State Armed Police, she suddenly resigned. Three days later, she sought and was granted voluntary retirement.
Two months later, the CID case was lodged against her.
While Trinamool leaders refuse to talk on the matter, West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury says, “Now our chief minister is trying to prove that Ghosh was hand in glove with smugglers. But once she was the closest to the CM. What went wrong?… It seems that a major secret will be outed. That is why the government is trying to arrest her by hook or crook. Is the CM scared that Ghosh may say reveal something?”
Senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty adds, “The question is that while she indulged in alleged misdeeds, who supported her? The money and land she amassed was at whose behest?”
The BJP has sent out a message that its doors are open for Ghosh. “They (Trinamool) used her as a weapon. If she wants to join us, we will use the same sword against them,” said Dilip Ghosh, BJP state president.