New Delhi: Former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, now involved in a strange cat and mouse game with the Central Bureau of Investigation, could be hiding in the city itself.
Top officials of the country’s premier investigation agency have told this reporter that Kumar—currently Additional Director General (ADG) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)—was seen entering his office (Bhabani Bhavan) a number of times during the last fortnight.
His movements in Bhabani Bhavan—claimed CBI officials—were around the time the investigating agency got permission for his arrest from the Alipore Court. Incidentally, the court is in the same vicinity as the state CID headquarters.
Details of his movements, along with CCTV footage, have already been sourced by officers of the investigating agency. What is alarming is that if the CBI proves that Kumar was seen in Bhabani Bhavan and still did not cooperate with the investigating agency, cops protecting him could face action.
“He is being guarded, he is being protected by his own men. He has all the support from the state government. This is a very difficult search,” the officials told this reporter on conditions of anonymity.
The court, however denied the CBI’s plea to obtain a non-bailable arrest warrant against Kumar and said the investigating agency has “full rights to arrest Kumar and can move court if they are manhandled”.
Interestingly, a team of CRPF soldiers have been sent to protect the CBI officers in Kolkata.
The CBI had filed their plea before the court on grounds of Kumar being “non-cooperative and evasive”. Kumar’s lawyer told the court that their client was currently on leave and will be available for questioning after 25 September on return.
It’s not that Kumar has been in hiding for long. He met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the state Assembly on 4 September 2019. It was not immediately known what transpired in the meeting. Neither Banerjee nor Kumar spoke to reporters about the meeting and the former Kolkata Police Commissioner was seen leaving minutes after the Chief Minister left the Assembly.
Banerjee, who visited the national capital last week, refused to answer queries relating to Kumar, arguing she was in Delhi on official work relating to the state government’s demand for changing the state’s name. Banerjee met both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah even as speculation remained high over reasons for her visit.
The CBI, which has launched a huge manhunt across the state for the missing cop, considered a techie and fitness freak, is convinced Kumar is on a hop-skip-and-jump mode and changing locations every day. And that he has full support from a strong network of police officers in the city, also across the state. “He will not go to his usual locations, he will be visiting places which are out of our radar. We have intensified the search,” the officials further said. A number of Kumar’s relatives and friends are under the CBI scanner, some questioned informally by officers of the investigating agency. But there is a catch. Help, the way CBI officers want, is just not coming, either in Kolkata or across Bengal.
CBI officers have been everywhere, including Kumar’s official residence, the IPS officers’ mess and also at Hotel Taj Vivanta, a favourite haunt of the former police commissioner. But everywhere they have drawn a blank. As many as 14 officers from CBI’s Delhi headquarters have flown to Kolkata to form four special teams to locate the former police commissioner. As many as three letters asking about details of Kumar have been sent by the CBI to the state police authorities.
It is reliably learnt that the CBI is keeping a close watch on neighbouring nations like Nepal and Bangladesh, where hundreds go using the land route. Both these countries have often been considered safe havens for people avoiding cops and investigating agencies.
The impression gathering ground in Kolkata is that Kumar will be protected (read, saved) at any cost because he is actually Mr Know All in the chit fund scandals, a person who had all first-hand knowledge. There are rumours in the city as to how he worked closely with the state machinery when he was heading the probe and his own officers have told CBI how Kumar would keep crucial data all in his safe.
For the records, Kumar, considered by many as very close to West Bengal Chief Mamta Banerjee, is being investigated by the CBI for his alleged role in evidence tampering and protecting certain politicians in the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams, where significant amount of cash was paid to both Left and Trinamool Congress leaders, football club owners and journalists by chit fund promoters.
Kumar, a 1989 batch IPS officer, headed the special investigation team (SIT) set up by the Bengal government to investigate the Saradha chit fund scam. But a large number of pen drives with recorded conversations between Saradha owner Sudipta Sen and TMC politicians were not handed over to the CBI officers by Kumar. The CBI also alleged Kumar routinely misled CBI officers, who were probing the chit fund scams. Eventually, the CBI officials say they were helped significantly by former TMC MP Kunal Ghosh and a host of former TMC leaders and disgruntled Left Front workers to get to the deep of the chit fund scandals in Kolkata and the way chit fund companies operated with help from the ruling state government.
While Saradha and Rose Valley were the two big players, the CBI officers gathered details of a host of other chit fund companies like I-Core and Alchemist—owned by former TMC Rajya Sabha member K.D. Singh—and one owned by industrialist Bijon Nag, related to the late Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. “In each of these cases, the owners worked very, very closely with the state government, media, football clubs and even the state’s entertainment industry. Every chit fund owner had big politicians on his side for support,” the officials said.
But one thing is sure. The noose is tightening around Kumar. And even if the former police commissioner slips out of the state, the chances are very unlikely that he will be able to hide for long. And if he appears before the CBI as he has promised to his lawyer, even then he will not be able to evade arrest.
A top cop in the CBI custody is not good news for all IPS officers in India. It will be bad news for cops in Kolkata, especially those who rushed to support Kumar and sat in the pavement on protest this February when the CBI made its first attempt to arrest Kumar. Many had then lost their medals and awards given by the Centre for what was considered as a partisan act; this time they could lose face.