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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Saradha scam: CBI plea in SC on Mamata govt ‘links’, says it is scuttling probe

The development is set to further heat the bitter political atmosphere in the state, which heads to Assembly polls next year, with Mamata leading the charge against a combative BJP.

Written by Atri Mitra , Ananthakrishnan G | Kolkata, New Delhi | Updated: December 27, 2020 7:45:46 am
Saradha scam: CBI plea in SC on Mamata govt ‘links’, says it is scuttling probeWest Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. (File)

The CBI has filed a contempt plea in the Saradha chit fund scam before the Supreme Court, seeking to link Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with some of the accused and charging her government with showing “constant, deliberate and wilful non-cooperation” in the probe and of “a concerted effort to evade, avoid and escape the process of law” and “scuttle the investigation”.

In an application filed on December 23, the CBI said that examination of one of the accused in the case, former Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Kumar Ghosh, by the Enforcement Directorate had “revealed that the Chief Minister, West Bengal, and promoter of M/s Saradha Group Shri Sudipta Sen had very good relationship”, and cited call data records to show that Ghosh and Sen were in constant touch.

The CBI is particularly critical of the role of former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, who when posted in Bidhannagar had supervised the SIT probe into the Saradha case, and has sought his custodial interrogation. In February 2019, Mamata had personally sat on a dharna to stop a CBI team from questioning Kumar. Referring to this, the CBI told the Supreme Court that the “facts clearly point towards concerted institutional connivance and a complete breakdown of rule of law and constitutional machinery in the State of West Bengal”.

The development is set to further heat the bitter political atmosphere in the state, which heads to Assembly polls next year, with Mamata leading the charge against a combative BJP.

The CBI application also talks of the ED questioning of Safiqur Rehman, an employee of Saradha Group, saying it had “revealed that… (MP) Ghosh used to direct… (Saradha promoter) Sen to pay money to different Durga Puja Committees” and that “when the Chief Minister, West Bengal, contested for MLA seat… Sen was forced to sponsor all the Pujas of Bhawanipur, Kolkata”.

Asked about the CBI’s contempt plea before the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the Saradha probe, Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee said the agency had been reduced to “a political agency”. “Six years back the CBI was given the investigation because of the allegation that the state machinery was not helping in the probe. After six years, this agency is saying the same. This CBI is nothing but a political agency and before the election, they are just trying to save their face. If the CBI is fair, why don’t they arrest Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari?”

Former Trinamool leaders and co-accused in the Saradha scam, Roy and Adhikari are now with the BJP. The other accused in the case include former Trinamool minister Madan Mitra, late Trinamool MP Tapash Pal, TMC MP Sudip Banerjee, and Bengali film producer Srikant Mohta.

The CBI did not respond to queries sent by The Sunday Express.

Regarding Kumar, the agency told the Supreme Court, “more evidence has emerged substantiating further the active connivance of… Kumar, the then Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar, in shielding and protecting the influential co-accused persons who had promoted the illegal business activities of the group of Ponzi companies and who had… benefited from the illegally collected funds” and that “evidence, which connected the ruling dispensation of State of West Bengal at that point of time financially and otherwise with M/s Saradha group of Ponzi companies was concealed by the Bidhannagar police under stewardship of… Kumar, in order to shield and save everyone concerned”.

The CBI also talked about a detailed complaint sent by Sen in April 2013, which “contains serious allegations against many influential persons such as Shri Kunal Kumar Ghosh, Shri Srinjoy Bose, Shri Santanu Ghosh, Smt Nalini Chidambaram, Shri Matang Sinh, Smt Manoranjana Sinh who were allegedly associated with the affairs of Saradha Group and accused”. However, it said, the SIT and Bidhannagar police arrested and chargesheeted “only… Ghosh… and a few employees of the Saradha Group”.

As per the CBI, Ghosh had also written to Rajeev Kumar in November 2013 “against Shri Arnab Ghosh, the then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate”, accusing the police of pressuring him to “make statements”.

The CBI’s application said that it had found that Rs 6.21 crore was paid from the CM’s Relief Fund to Tara TV, which was part of the Saradha Group, “at the rate of Rs 27 lakh per month”, from May 2013 to April 2015. “In order to further look into the gravely suspicious payments to a clouded private media entity, a letter dated 16.10.2018 was written to the Chief Secretary, West Bengal, to provide information about the constitution and functioning of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Despite repeated efforts, the state government has parted with incomplete and evasive replies,” it said.

The CBI also accused the Mamata government of not sharing “a list containing names of certain influential persons and a synopsis of evidence against them”, which had been earlier submitted by the state to the Supreme Court. “State Police did not provide the information on record despite repeated requests.”

Talking about an auction held of Mamata’s paintings, in 2011-2013, the CBI said that while these were bought by promoters of other ponzi companies besides Saradha, these were not investigated. “It has come on record that not only M/s Saradha paid funds… but other ponzi companies like M/s Rose Valley Group; M/s Tower Group; M/s Pailan Group; M/s Angel Agro Group have also bought paintings worth lakhs of rupees steered by certain persons linked to the highest state authorities.” The state police did not investigate “any case against any other group of ponzi companies as mentioned”, the CBI said.

The agency mentioned in detail the February 2019 incident when Mamata had sat on a dharna to stop a CBI team from questioning Rajeev Kumar. It accused Kumar of “concealing evidences” gathered by the police in its probe between April 2013 and June 2014, including “disappearance of records and information”, to “shield influential persons associated with the larger conspiracy”.

The CBI said that, among other things, an investigating officer under the direct supervision of Kumar had handed over “crucial original, primary and fundamental evidence such as laptops, mobile phones etc… to the main accused”. The agency said this was done “to destroy the evidence prior to the transfer of the case to the CBI”.

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