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Saturday 4 July 2020

CBI custody for Saradha accused extended; warring TMC factions try patch-up

Critical software needed to verify investors’ claims goes missing.


Roy, Adhikari try patch-up to save party
Trinamool Congress MPs Mukul Roy and Subhendu Adhikari are not known to be on good terms with one another, as party supremo Mamata Banerjee furthered her nephew Abhishek Banerjee — who is close to Adhikari — as Roy’s substitute. Given this backdrop, Roy’s recent appearance in an event presided over by Adhikari in Panskura sent tongues of political speculators wagging.

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Mukul Ray and Subhendu Adhikari at the Panskura function of the TMC on Friday.

In an event of the party in Tamluk last Sunday, Roy was present but Adhikari was nowhere to be seen. On Friday, the latter thanked Roy for being present at his Panskura function. Midnapore district head of the TMC Shishir Adhikari said Roy had come following the chief minister’s instruction.

Political observers believe the Trinamool Congress members are trying to huddle together desperately so that their mutual differences do not expose the party in course of the probe into the Saradha scam conducted by different Central agencies.

The two leaders trying to patch up couldn’t hide the Saradha connection in their speeches. Roy announced a series of protests beginning 19 September and concluding on the 22nd from the Panskura stage. “We will hit the streets to protest the CBI conspiracy (of trying to malign the TMC),” Roy declared.

The Panskura event was preceded by a procession from the local PWD ground to the railway station. The party ‘huddle’ included Haldia MLA Shiuli Saha, district president of Youth TMC Anisur Rahman, Kolaghat MLA Biplab Ray Chawdhury among others known to belong to the anti-Adhikari faction. The Adhikari faction was represented by Zila Parishad head Madhurima Mandal, Khejuri MLA Ranjit Mandal, Bhagabanpur MLA Ardhendu Maiti and Egra MLA Samaresh Das.

The effort to close in the ranks notwithstanding, when pro-Adhikari slogans were raised during the event, Ray’s supporters betrayed discomfiture. Adhikari then made a gesture to his cheerleaders to exercise restraint.

Kolkata — Trinamool Congress leader and former director general of police Rajat Majumdar — who was summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged involvement in the Saradha group financial scandal on 9 September and then arrested — alleged some days ago that the investigating agency was trying to extract convenient statements from him and exerting mental pressure on him in its custody. Now, citing the reported suicide of former Assam DGP Shankar Barua, Majumdar’s counsel has appealed for his bail. 

Previously, the former DGP was brought to the court on 11 September. That day he had caused a political stir by naming West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress all-India secretary Mukul Roy. He had also warned CBI officers of dire consequences if the case against him was pursued further.

With him in a much subdued form at Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Haradhan Mukherjee’s court in Alipore yesterday, Majumdar’s lawyer Tirthankar Roy accused that it was the CBI’s pressure tactic to which Barua had succumbed. To that, the judge inquired from Majumdar directly whether he was being pressured in CBI custody. The former Bengal DGP answered in the affirmative, albeit with some ambivalence. “Ki ar bolbo, sir? Seta to kichhuta hochchhei (What do I say, sir? It is true to a certain extent),” he said.

Another lawyer appearing for Majumdar, Sanjay Basu, said the CBI has so far been unable to produce documentary evidence of Majumdar’s involvement in the scam.

Agencies misplace critical software
The Safari software that holds vital evidence in the investigations into the Saradha group financial scandal has been missing.The Justice Shyamal Sen Commission probing the scam had sent for the US-made software to verify the claims of investors. The Special Investigation Team made of West Bengal Police personnel told the commission that it had already been handed over to the CBI. But the CBI denies having received the software.Before escaping to Kashmir and being caught there, Saradha head Sudipta Sen had informed the CBI through a letter that the scamsters had siphoned off investors’ money instead of depositing it in banks by using a loophole in the Safari software.

In the current fiscal year, the commission returned the fourth instalment of the amount due to the investors. While preparing the list of recipients for the fifth instalment, the commission needed to check data in the software that is now reportedly missing. Till the fourth list, the commission would take the software from the SIT every time and then return it to the State agency every time after verification of Saradha’s customers for that round.

The commission sent for the software for the last time in the 2nd week of July. It was then that the SIT told it that all objects related to the scam had been handed over to the CBI under the Supreme Court’s instruction; that includes the Safari software. On being told so, the commission wrote a letter to the CBI, pleading helplessness in preparing the fifth list without cross-checking the names from the software. The CBI did not give a written reply to the letter. But they have let the commission know that it is not in their custody.

The CBI then told the commission that it needed some time to locate the missing software. Finally in August-end, the central agency told the commission verbally that the software is not part of the 450 things it collected from West Bengal SIT under instruction from the apex court of the country.

The charges were vehemently denied by Parthasarathi Dutta, the CBI counsel. He shot back, saying the former DGP had misused his official position to help spread the Saradha group’s activities. He alleged that Majumdar had also joined the Ponzi group as its chief consultant after retirement from government service. The CBI lawyer said Majumdar had been instrumental in Saradha’s fraudulent affairs, and that vital clues to crack the case were extracted from him through interrogation.

The CBI submitted to the court that a man of Majumdar’s influence could tamper with evidence and pressure key witnesses if let out in the open.

On hearing the arguments of both the sides, the judge ordered that Majumdar be kept in CBI custody till 26 September. On emerging from the court, Majumdar refused to respond to the queries of waiting journalists.

Anticipating Majumdar’s custody, Cell No. 3 of Alipore Jail was prepared for his arrival. The second storey of the cell houses Sudipta Sen, Saradha group’s head. After a routine check-up at the jail hospital, Majumdar was served dal, rice and mixed vegetable for dinner. A source in the jail said he didn’t like the food.

Along with Majumdar, Kingfisher-East Bengal Football Club’s Debabrata Sarkar (alias Nitu) and businessman Sandhir Agarwal were produced at the court yesterday. Sarkar’s lawyer appealed for his bail citing health reasons. Sarkar showed his swollen left knee and complained of a fluctuating blood pressure and cardiac problems. He said he was advised to see a specialist but the jail authorities could not arrange for such a doctor so far.

However, Sarkar admitted that his request to be treated as a Division I prisoner has been granted and he has been getting facilities under the provision at the reformatory where he has been housed. The discriminatory West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992, provides for some privileges for prisoners of the said division: “Chapter VII/Classification of prisoner/Section 24: 25. (1) A prisoner, whether convicted or under trial , who by his social status, education and habits of life found to have been accustomed to a superior mode of living, shall be classified as a Division I prisoner unless” he is an offender under certain categories of heinous crimes.

Agarwal’s lawyer had pleaded for a bail, too.

Challenging the bail applications, the CBI said to the court that both Sarkar and Agarwal had played important roles in circumventing regulations of the Security Exchange Board of India and Registrar of Companies among other regulators, and hence they couldn’t be let loose.

The court decided to send them both to custody till 26 September like it sent Majumdar to custody for the same duration.

On Friday, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoned East Bengal’s Tapan Das, too. The agency wanted to know details of the contract between the football club and the United Beverages group in the period 2008-12. The club had received Rs 8 lakh in donation in that duration. It said it has submitted relevant documents to the ED in this connection.

CPM may not be that clean either

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Rabin Deb talking to media persons after leaving the CBI office on Friday.

The heat of investigations into the Saradha group’s financial scandal is as much on the chief opposition party, the CPI(M), as it is on the ruling Trinamool Congress. The CBI sent summons letters to Trinamool MP Subhendu Adhikari on Wednesday and CPM leader Rabin Deb last Thursday.

Deb initially acknowledged receipt of such a letter but pleaded that he could not produce himself before the CBI because of prior commitment to some political work. He would certainly present himself for questioning before 25 September, Deb had said. But fearing that this would be construed as evasion, the CPI(M) made him appear before the CBI on Friday. He was forced to cancel his party meet in Tamluk.

On Friday he went to the CBI office at the CGO Complex in Salt Lake at about 3 pm. Before entering the CBI office, he told media persons present outside, “I have been summoned because I am a witness in one of the cases. I’d told the CBI that I could be present on the 19th as a party programme on the day stood cancelled.” He was grilled by the investigating officers for about 2½ hours and his statements were recorded. Emerging from the CBI office, Deb told journalists, “I have had a round of talks with the investigating officers. I tried to explain to them the various aspects of the case. Whether they are satisfied with my explanation is something only they could tell.”

“Saradha is a big scam. Some people have named me in that connection, as a result of which people at large and my colleagues in the CPI(M) may have an adverse impression about the party. I appeared before the CBI to clear the air,” Deb said. He features in Case No. 4 of the Saradha scandal which deals with frauds in the Ponzi group’s real estate business.

Adhikari says he has not received any such letter, but having read of it in some newspapers, he had inquired with the CBI if he needed to present himself for the agency’s investigation. He claims the CBI told him they would let him know about it in due course.

However, (suspended Trinamool leader) Kunal Ghosh had earlier dragged his name into the case, Adhikari said and, hence, it was plausible that the CBI could summon him, he added. In Ghosh’s letter to the CBI, it was alleged that Adhikari has sought a huge donation for the Saradha group in the Kanthi constituency.

As for Deb, the CBI wants to know what role he played in the merger of the Tara television channel into the Saradha group. The said channel has for long been known for its proximity to several leaders of the CPI(M). A source in the CBI told सिर्फ़ News that Saradha Realty had mortgaged a mall, Midland Park — where the group’s headquarters were located, too — made of the company’s money to buy Tara’s 3 television channels. Deb has been found to have facilitated this deal, said the source.

Deb claimed that the CBI could not authenticate the source of its information that he used to frequent the mall above.

Meanwhile, CPI(M) State chief and Politburo member Biman Basu said, “We have issued a clean chit to Rabin Deb. It would have been better if the CBI had not summoned him.”

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
The founder of Sirf News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group. He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.

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