The ED has got hold of information about Abhishek Banerjee’s wife’s Bangkok account and wife’s sister Menaka Gambhir’s London account.
Kolkata: In the alleged coal smuggling scam case, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned Trinamool Congress (TMC) national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Naroola Banerjee to its Delhi office. Earlier, Rujira was interrogated by the CBI at Rujira’s Kalighat home before the Assembly polls in Bengal. Rujira’s relatives were also questioned. On 1 September, the ED summoned Rujira to the Delhi office. She said in a letter that it was not possible for her to go to Delhi in such a short time. Abhishek Banerjee has been summoned on 6 September. In this case, the ED has got hold of information about Abhishek Banerjee’s wife’s Bangkok account and wife’s sister Menaka Gambhir’s London account. The agency had gone to serve a notice to Abhishek’s wife Rujira to join the investigation of the alleged multi-crore coal scam that the CBI is investigating in the state. A similar notice was also served to Abhishek’s sister-in-law Maneka Gambhir, who was subsequently questioned by the CBI on 22 February.
Following is some information that the ED claims to have gathered in the coal case. Arrested police officer Ashok Mishra was in charge of keeping the remittances smooth. At one time, he was in Bishnupur police station of Diamond Harbour and from there communicated with ex-TMC leader Vinay Mishra, who is now absconding, The money used to come to an Asansol hotel by car kept at the police station. Then police security money would come allegedly to Vinay Mishra’s office in South Kolkata. From there, the money would go to certain persons. The collection was Rs 27-30 crore per month in 2019. After a year, the amount increased to Rs 35-40 crore per month. The allegation is that the money thus collected was used in the hotel business in London and Singapore.
The Bengal coal smuggling case, which the CBI is currently investigating, allegedly involves illegal mining and smuggling of coal worth crores of rupees across Bengal’s borders to Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar with the help of government officials and politicians. The agency has, in recent weeks, conducted searches in different locations in West Bengal, specifically in Purulia, West Burdwan, and Kolkata. It is also searching for local coal smugglers to establish a connection with a larger nexus.
In this regard, the CBI had registered an FIR in November 2020 against Anup Majhi, famously known as Lala, and his deputy Joydeb Mondol, both of whom are allegedly the kingpins of this multi-crore scam. Mass scale theft of coal was allegedly taking place at the Eastern Coalfield Limited’s lines with the help of company officials and security-in-charge, engineered by Lala and Mondol. The two were questioned by the CBI and ED for their alleged involvement in this illegal coal empire worth Rs 20,000 crore at an undisclosed location in November 2020.
Majhi confessed in a written statement that he would routinely pay money for 20 years to influential politicians in Bengal for operating unhindered. This alleged confession came after the cops from Dhanbad had arrested the drivers and cleaners transporting the coal from Asansol, Durgapur, and Dhanbad, and subsequently raided Majhi and Mondol’s offices. He is known to own 22 industrial units, and also allegedly deals in illegally quarried sand.
He’s also known to have ties with Enamul Haque, the infamous cattle smuggler known to operate out of Bengal. Haque, allegedly the kingpin of a cattle smuggling racket across the India-Bangladesh border, was arrested from Delhi in November 2020 and then surrendered to the CBI in December 2020. It was alleged that Haque used to bribe BSF officials on the border to smuggle cattle. In February 2021, the CBI filed a charge-sheet against seven people in the transborder cattle smuggling case, including Haque and a BSF commandant, Satish Kumar. It is alleged that Majhi would use Haque’s networks to transport illegal coal to Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, and beyond, to Bangladesh.
The first time the case came to directly involve the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is when TMC youth leader Vinay Mishra’s house was raided by the CBI on 31 December 2020, in connection with both the coal and cattle scams. The agency raided two of Mishra’s houses in Kolkata; however, he was not at home.
Thereafter, in January 2021, the CBI issued summons to Mishra to cooperate with the investigation but he failed to appear. After several summons, the CBI first issued a lookout notice against Mishra and then a CBI court issued an arrest warrant against him. Mishra’s brother, Vikas Mishra, was also arrested. Vinay Mishra has left the country, and as has been reported by The Sunday Guardian, is now in the Caribbean country of Vanuatu.
Subhendu Adhikari has subsequently made several statements on TMC leaders and their relationship with Lala, especially training his guns on Abhishek Banerjee. Thereafter, even before the CBI issued a notice to Rujira Banerjee, Adhikari had claimed that Lala transferred money to her bank account in Thailand.
“I said I had proof. This shows that money from coal smuggling was deposited in a bank account in Bangkok. The money went to a person named Madam Naroola. Who is Madam Naroola? It is the same person who was once caught at the Kolkata airport with a lot of gold. The truth will be out when Lala, the man who ran the coal smuggling operation, is nabbed,” said Adhikari at a rally, holding up what seemed like a bank document. This was strongly refuted by the Banerjees, with TMC leaders saying that this was nothing but a case of political vendetta.
References to the coal and cattle smuggling cases have been made by other BJP leaders, too, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Rujira was issued a notice under Section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962, to appear in person before the Additional/Joint Commissioner of Customs in Kolkata in April 2019.
Before the election, BJP claimed an audio clip contained a conversation between Kolkata-based businessman Ganesh Bagaria and Vinay Mishra. In the audio clip, one man can be heard telling the other that money from the coal scam went to Abhishek Banerjee. The TMC has strongly denied this charge.