CBI, ED Probes Into Bengal Scams: Is Judgement Day Fast Approaching For The Trinamool?
ED's questioning of Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira in the illegal coal mining scam is the latest development in the multiple scams that have rocked Bengal.
However, ED and CBI sources told Swarajya that the probes into these scams are nearing closure, and more Trinamool leaders are likely to fall into the net.
Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for three-and-half hours on Thursday (8 June) in connection with the massive illegal coal mining scam.
The ED, it is learnt, has gathered irrefutable evidence of huge sums of money — suspected to be proceeds of the scam — being deposited in some overseas bank accounts held by Rujira.
ED joint director Pankaj Kumar and other senior officers of the agency had flown down to Kolkata to grill Rujira, who was a resident of Thailand before her marriage to Abhishek.
Senior ED officers told Swarajya that the very fact that the joint director had personally led the interrogation indicates that the evidence gathered by the agency against Rujira is solid.
Rujira was given a three-page questionnaire relating to transactions of huge sums of money involving her overseas bank account between 2014 and 2019. This was the period that the coal mining scam — coal was extracted illegally from mines owned by coal PSUs in the Asansol-Durgapur belt — was flourishing.
The ED officers said Rujira could not provide satisfactory answers and did not reply to repeated queries on many of the transactions from her accounts.
Rujira, said the ED officers, couldn’t explain how the huge sums of money were deposited in her overseas accounts and then transferred to other accounts.
She is most likely to be summoned for interrogation once again after the ED officers match Rujira’s responses with the evidence gathered so far. And if the line of investigation into the scam is any indication, she may be taken into custody for not cooperating with the investigation.
Top Trinamool leaders admitted that it was fear of Rujira’s arrest by the ED that led to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelling her plans to visit Darjeeling for four days earlier this week.
The Chief Minister was scheduled to travel to Darjeeling for four days from Monday (5 June).
Though the official reason given for the cancellation was her decision to go to Odisha to meet the victims of the rail disaster there, Trinamool sources told Swarajya that the actual reason was the fear of the ED arresting Rujira who had been summoned by the agency on Thursday.
Rujira Banerjee and her children were stopped from boarding a flight to Dubai on Monday (5 June) morning and an ED notice summoning her for interrogation on Thursday (8 June) was served on her at the airport itself.
It is learnt that on hearing about these developments, Mamata Banerjee cancelled her trip to Darjeeling. “The fear of Rujira being arrested is real,” said a senior Trinamool leader who is close to the Chief Minister’s family.
Law Minister Also Summoned
The ED has also issued summons to Bengal Law Minister and close Mamata Banerjee aide Moloy Ghatak. He has been asked to appear at the ED headquarters in New Delhi for questioning on 19 June in connection with the coal mining scam.
Ghatak had skipped two earlier summons by the ED — on 14 September last year and 29 March this year — for questioning.
The CBI, which is also probing the coal mining scam, had raided Ghatak’s residences and offices in Asansol on 6 September last year. Another CBI team swooped on his residence in Kolkata the same morning and interrogated him for eight hours.
The raids were carried out after Ghatak, who represents Asansol North Assembly constituency, failed to turn up for questioning despite several summons by the CBI.
If Ghatak fails to turn up for questioning at the ED headquarters in New Delhi on 19 June, the central agency may initiate legal action against him. Ghatak can even be arrested for ignoring the summons and not cooperating with the probe agency, said sources.
The ED has also summoned the Bengal Law Minister’s close confidante, Shankar Chakraborty, to New Delhi for questioning on the scam next week. Shankar is the husband of Trinamool Congress councillor in Asansol Municipal Corporation, Dipa Chakraborty.
Shankar Chakraborty has also been evading ED summons. He has been warned of strong legal action in case he does not turn up for questioning next week.
The names of Ghatak and his close associate Shankar Chakraborty came up when the CBI started probing the scam in November 2020.
The main accused in the scam are Anup Manji, a businessman with very close links to some top Trinamool leaders, former Trinamool youth wing leader Vinay Mishra who was a very close associate of Abhishek Banerjee, Vinay’s brother Vikas, a couple of police officers and some senior officers of the public-sector company Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
Vinay Mishra left India and got citizenship of Vanuatu (a country spanning a group of islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean based on a clean chit provided to him by a senior officer of the Kolkata Police (read ). His properties have been attached by the central agencies probing the scam.
Abhishek Banerjee’s Alleged Involvement
Abhishek Banerjee’s name has also cropped up in the illegal coal smuggling scam, say ED officers who are probing the money trail in the scam. The Trinamool general secretary is also likely to be summoned in the near future for questioning in this (illegal coal mining) scam that has yielded an estimated Rs 1,000 crore.
Soon after Rujira left the ED office at the Central Government Offices (CGO) complex in Salt Lake, the ED served summons on Abhishek Banerjee asking him to appear for questioning in the cash-for-jobs scam.
Abhishek Banerjee was interrogated by the CBI for over nine hours on 20 May in connection with the cash-for-jobs scam in the state school education department. Many top Trinamool leaders and at least one close aide of Abhishek Banerjee have been arrested for their involvement in that scam.
The ED is probing the money trail in the cash-for-jobs scam as well. Abhishek Banerjee said he won’t honour the ED summons since he is very busy with the forthcoming panchayat polls in Bengal.
But that ploy may not work since the ED probe into the scam has been mandated by the Calcutta High Court. If necessary, said ED officers, the agency may appeal to the Calcutta High Court to issue an order to Abhishek Banerjee to appear for questioning or even seek clearance to take ‘coercive action’ against him.
“Preoccupation with election campaigning or political work is not a valid ground for skipping summons. Let’s see what he (Abhishek Banerjee) does. If he requests us to postpone the summons till the panchayat polls are over, we will respond,” the ED officer said.
Probe Into Another Scam
The Trinamool is also very worried over the probe launched by the CBI and the ED into a cash-for-jobs scam in recruitments to various municipal bodies in Bengal. This scam surfaced while the central agencies were probing the recruitment scam in the school education department.
The CBI raided 20 locations — offices of 14 municipalities and the head office of the municipal affairs department in Kolkata — on Wednesday (7 June) to gather evidence on the scam.
Questioning of officials of the department and various municipalities, including those who are suspected of having obtained jobs in exchange for large sums of money, is expected to start soon. Trinamool leaders and functionaries whose names have already cropped up will also be questioned.
The Trinamool leadership fears that a few party leaders and functionaries may be arrested for their involvement in the municipal recruitment scam.
BJP Asks: Why Is The CM Nervous?
Though Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has put up a brave face and dismissed all allegations of corruption and wrongdoings against her party colleagues, her opponents say she is nervous.
“She is ranting against the CBI and ED and accusing them of carrying out a vendetta at the behest of the Union Government only because she is nervous. If she knows that her family members and colleagues are innocent, she should say she welcomes any probe in Bengal,” said leader of opposition and senior BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.
Adhikari also pointed out that the Trinamool Congress spent huge sums of money to mount legal challenges in the Calcutta High Court and Supreme Court to stop the CBI and ED from probing the scams.
“Top Supreme Court lawyers were engaged and many pleas were filed to stop the probes. Those pleas were repeatedly turned down by the Courts. What was the need to spend such a lot of money to challenge the probes by ED and CBI if the Trinamool is innocent? The repeated attempts to block the probes by central agencies points to guilt,” said Adhikari.
The multiple scams that have rocked Bengal over the past 12 years since Mamata Banerjee came to power has dented her image. She now fears that arrests of more party leaders, as well as members of her immediate family, will be a big political blow for her.
ED and CBI sources told Swarajya that the probes into the multiple scams — the cash-for-jobs in the school education department, illegal coal mining and the cattle smuggling — are nearing closure. And more Trinamool leaders are likely to fall into the net.
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