As CBI’s Saradha net closes in on her party, Mamata Banerjee flexes her cadre muscle

Sources said a Rs 20-crore deal between Bose’s media house and the Saradha group was under probe.

Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata | Updated: September 12, 2014 8:58:54 am
Law Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya (2nd from left) at the protest outside CBI office in Kolkata, on Thursday. Law Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya (2nd from left) at the protest outside CBI office in Kolkata, on Thursday.

On Thursday, the law minister of West Bengal squatted with placards outside the CBI’s office in Kolkata, carrying out a dharna against the “process of investigation” in the Saradha chit fund scam.

The spectacle underlined rising desperation in the Trinamool Congress leadership as the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) circle increasingly closer — over the past three months, investigators have called in for questioning as many as five party MPs, one state minister, and several other leaders.

A suspended Trinamool leader and a retired chief of the state police have been arrested. While the first — Kunal Ghosh — has demanded that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee be questioned as well, the ex-DGP, Rajat Majumdar — who is now a Trinamool vice-president — had a meltdown in court on Thursday, shouting that the CBI would not be able to force him to implicate either Mamata or her close aide Mukul Roy in the case.

Majumdar, whom the CBI has accused of being a “conspirator”, was arrested on Tuesday. On Wednesday, CBI questioned Rajya Sabha MP Srinjoy Bose, editor of the Bengali newspaper Sangbad Pratidin, for several hours.

Significantly, two senior TMC leaders, Lok Sabha MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay and state minister Partha Chatterjee, have disowned Majumdar after his arrest, saying he was not even a member of the party.

Kunal Ghosh, who is a TMC Rajya Sabha MP and was at one time considered close to Mamata, was suspended indefinitely in September 2013, about two months before he was arrested in the Saradha case.

West Bengal Law Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, who is also the president of the TMC women’s wing, said on Thursday that the party was “not against the investigation” and had “full respect for the Supreme Court”, which had ordered the CBI in earlier this year.

But, Bhattacharya said, “The CBI is being used by the Narendra Modi government to malign our Chief Minister.” On Wednesday, her ministerial colleague Chatterjee had described the CBI investigation as “politically motivated”, and alleged that Trinamool leaders were being summoned to the CBI office “to influence the assembly byelection results”.

Late in the evening, after he was allowed to leave, Srinjoy Bose had said, “CBI called me to clarify certain deals I had with Sudipta Sen’s Saradha company about providing editorial support and expertise for the televison channel Sen had bought.

“Earlier, the SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office) and ED had called me. I have explained everything to the CBI.” Bose was at one time the employer of Kunal Ghosh, who headed the media arm of the Saradha group.

Sources close to the investigation said a Rs 20-crore deal between Bose’s media house and the Saradha group was under probe, along with unexplained flows of funds from Saradha to Bose’s company.

In his first letter to the CBI, written before he fled from Kolkata in April 2013, Sudipta Sen had alleged that Bose and Kunal Ghosh had taken money from Saradha.

A second TMC leader, Sameer Chakraborty, too was summoned by the CBI on Wednesday. Chakraborty’s wife Krishna Chakraborty is the TMC chairperson of the Bidhannagar municipality.

Sources in the CBI said the agency is examining Chakraborty’s alleged involvement in channeling Saradha money to Dubai, where he has business interests. Krishna Chakraborty is alleged to have sponsored a film festival and hosted a dinner in a five-star hotel with scam funds in 2012.

Krishna Chakraborty denied all allegations. “We want the culprits to be punished and we never tried to influence the investigation,” she said. “We do not have the authority to organise a film festival. We were just asked to arrange a venue, and given some tickets. The dinner was not organised by us. We were only invited to it.”

Sameer Chakraborty could not be reached for a comment.

Also on Wednesday, senior TMC leader Asif Khan — the man Mamata had given the responsibility for the party’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh — resigned, accusing the TMC of not cleaning the “dirt within”. Khan too had been questioned by the CBI.

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