KOLKATA: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday made its first set of arrests in the Bengal coal smuggling case by taking into custody four suspects in West Burdwan and Bankura districts, officials aware of the development said.
The men were identified as Joydeb Mondal, Narayan Nanda, Nirad Mondal and Gurupada Majhi. CBI suspects that they ran the operation for Anup Majhi alias Lala, the racket’s alleged head named in the FIR. Majhi was earlier granted an arrest shield by the Supreme Court. He has appealed for an extension of the order.
The arrested men will be produced before the Asansol court in West Burdwan on Tuesday.
The coal smuggling case is a raging political issue in Bengal.
On September 6, Trinamool Congress (TMC) national general secretary and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Delhi for almost nine hours. ED is conducting a parallel probe into money laundering charges linked to allegations of organised coal smuggling.
Meanwhile, CBI on Monday questioned Madan Mitra, the TMC legislator from Kamarhati in North 24 Parganas district in the I-Core chit fund case in which industry minister Partha Chatterjee and legislator Mans Bhunia were questioned recently.
“Our party has never said that we will not face CBI. I answered the questioned the officers asked,” Mitra said.
Agency officials said Mitra’s son, Swarup, may be summoned on Tuesday. “I don’t know if my son has received any e-mail from the CBI,” Mitra said.
CBI registered the coal smuggling case in November last year. It is alleged that illegally mined coal, worth several thousand crores of rupees, have been sold in the black market over several years by a racket operating in the western parts of Bengal where the Eastern Coalfields Limited runs a number of mines.
Abhishek Banerjee was summoned again by ED to its Delhi office on September 21 but he and his wife Rujira, who was earlier questioned by CBI in Kolkata, have moved the Delhi high court seeking permission to face the officers in the West Bengal capital Kolkata.
The developments come days before the September 30 voting in the assembly bypoll at Kolkata’s Bhawanipore, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s old seat, which she has to win to continue as chief minister. She was defeated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram in the March-April polls. During the campaign, which ended on Monday, the BJP described her as corrupt.
On September 6, Abhishek Banerjee threw a challenge at the BJP, saying using probe agencies against TMC leaders will not help the saffron camp gain any political ground in Bengal.
“TMC will never bow before you (BJP). Do whatever you can. If ED has any evidence against me, make it public. If anybody can prove that I have accepted even ten paise from anyone, I will voluntarily walk to the gallows and hang myself,” Abhishek Banerjee said in Delhi.
On August 17, ED filed its first charge-sheet in the coal smuggling case and named former TMC youth wing general secretary Vinay Mishra’s brother Vikas and former officer-in-charge of Bankura police station, Ashok Mishra, as prime accused. Both were arrested in Delhi.
A businessman, Vinay Mishra renounced his Indian citizenship in December last year and became a citizen of Vanuatu, a small island country in the South Pacific.
ED’s charge-sheet, filed at a special court in Delhi, did not mention Abhishek Banerjee. The agency told the court that it will file supplementary charge-sheets as the probe progresses.
ED has also summoned Bengal law minister Moloy Ghatak for questioning in this case. Ghatak informed the agency on Monday that as a senior citizen it is not possible for him to travel to Delhi during the Covid pandemic.
Before summoning Abhishek Banerjee, ED wanted to question his wife Rujira Banerjee in the first week of September. She did not go to Delhi citing the risk a mother of two infants might face while travelling during the pandemic. She told the agency in an email that it would be convenient for her if ED officers came to her Kolkata residence.
Rujira Banerjee was questioned by CBI in February. A CBI team visited Abhishek Banerjee’s residence. In March, CBI officials also questioned Rujira’s sister Maneka Gambhir and the latter’s husband Ankush Arora and father-in-law Pawan Arora.
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