The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is likely to arrest key political leaders belonging to West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), for their alleged involvement in the multi-billion rupees Saradha scam. This comes nearly four years after the CBI registered the first FIR in the Ponzi scheme in which more than 15 lakh people were duped.
Sources said that senior TMC leader and West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, who was first named as a co-conspirator in the scam by his former TMC colleague and ex-MP Kunal Ghosh, in September 2014, is likely to be called for questioning by the agency.
“We have been able to gather enough evidence against him and will call him for questioning. The evidence has been shared with our top officials. His interrogation is important to establish the names of individuals and politically exposed persons who were a part of the racket and benefited from it,” an agency source claimed. When asked if Partha Chatterjee would be arrested by the agency, the source said that depended on how cooperative he would be during the questioning.
Sources added that at least two other senior TMC leaders, whose involvement in the Saradha scam was very clear, were also a “notice away” and all depended on how the top brass of the agency planned to move forward.
The agency had filed its first FIR in June 2014 after the Supreme Court asked it to take over the case.
Close to 70 pages of documents that are in the possession of the top officials of the CBI, and were “generated” very recently, accuse certain close associates, including relatives, of the TMC supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, of allegedly acquiring property worth Rs 1,200 crore in West Bengal and elsewhere in the country, between 2012 and 2017. The documents also mention property in Singapore.
Sources say that one important name that the CBI has, is of Firhad Hakim, aka Bobby Hakim, who is seen as the Muslim face of the TMC. The CBI has alleged that Hakim has huge benami properties in Bengal. The CBI has also alleged that Partha Chaterjee has acquired a huge plot of land in a posh south Kolkata locality illegally, apart from being involved in the Saradha chit fund scam.
The CBI is also believed to have claimed to have unearthed “substantial proof” against another TMC leader, Aroop Biswas. Biswas, who is MLA from Tollygunge in Kolkata, is allegedly involved in the Rose Valley scam.
The Kolkata Corporation mayor, Sovan Chatterjee is also under the scanner of the CBI for alleged disproportionate assets. Sources say that the CBI has alleged that he played a vital role in arranging TMC’s funds for the municipal elections in Kolkata, as well as for the 2016 Bengal Assembly elections.
Last week, the CBI arrested one Imanul Haq, an international cow smuggler, who was allegedly associated with the TMC.
The agency is believed to have identified kingpins of other cow-smuggling rackets; sand and coal mafias active in Bankura and Birbhum districts; and coal mafias in Asansol district. Sources in CBI claim that these are funding the TMC, in lieu of protection and patronage. A special team has been formed to investigate the cases fast.
West Bengal based BJP leaders have accused the CBI of going slow in the Saradha case and not doing anything substantial in almost four years of its investigation. However, sources within the agency say that their problem is that the police in West Bengal is both hostile and uncooperative, because of which the investigation has been slow. In December last year, the CBI told the Supreme Court that the state police was not cooperating in the investigation and was not even replying to letters sent by the agency seeking information needed to move forward in the investigation.
Earlier, in October last year, Rajeev Kumar, the Commissioner of Kolkata Police wrote to Alok Kumar Verma, Director, CBI, alleging that the agency was conducting a politically motivated investigation in the case. Rajeev Kumar even sought the replacement of the CBI investigating officer.
Kumar wrote the letter after saying “no” to the CBI’s direction to him to appear for questioning, twice.
CBI officers say that Rajeev Kumar was supervising the investigation until the Supreme Court ordered the probe to be transferred to the Central agency in early 2014 and hence his questioning was vital.