The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed an FIR against 12 Trinamool Congress leaders in the Narada sting case and slapped sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA).
According to CBI sources, those who were seen accepting cash in the video have been named in the FIR.
The Narada sting operation has landed chief minister Mamata Banerjee in her biggest trouble so far. Those seen in the video telecast nationwide are some of the most prominent and the powerful in the party – Saugata Roy, Suvendu Adhikari, Sultan Ahmed, Aparupa Poddar, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee (all Lok Sabha MPs), Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad (Bobby) Hakim, Madan Mitra (ministers), Iqbal Ahmed (MLA), Sovan Chatterjee (MLA and Kolkata mayor) S M H Mirza (IPS officer who claimed to be taking the money on behalf of party Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy).
Sections 7 (Public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration) and 13 (criminal misconduct by a public servant) of POCA were slapped against the accused. Criminal conspiracy charges of IPC (section 120B) were also held against them.
The Narada scam refers to a series of sting videos shot by Naradanews.com over a period of two years, which show several ministers and half a dozen MPs of the TMC allegedly accepting bribes. It was aired a few days before the Bengal Assembly polls of 2016, leading Mamata Banerjee to allege that it was a result of political conspiracy.
Naradanews.com CEO Mathew Samuel told the media in his initial reaction, “I welcome the move. I have been saying from day one that the truth should come out.”
The TMC tried to play down the FIR.
“The FIR should be not be taken at face value. The party will do whatever is required,” said Trinamool secretary general and state education minister Partha Chatterjee.
But the opposition welcomed the FIR and came down heavily on the government.
“The FIR is reassuring for us. It will settle many doubts in the minds of people (read delay in investigation),” remarked Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh.
“Those who were seen accepting money now officially face corruption charges despite last ditch efforts by the Trinamool supremo to save them. Since all the accused are influential people and enjoy the blessings of the chief minister they must be interrogated in CBI custody,” said CPI-M Lok Sabha MP and Politburo member Md Salim.
Leader of opposition and veteran Congress leader Abdul Mannan demanded resignation of the Trinamool leaders named in the FIR. “The chief minister should be ashamed that half the members in her cabinet and the mayor of Kolkata are named in the FIR. If she is really a symbol of honesty, as she claims, she should first make them resign,” said Mannan, whose dogged pursuit resulted in CBI investigation in the chit fund scams three years ago.
According to CBI sources, a Special Investigation Team will be set up to investigate the case.
On March 18 a division bench of Calcutta high court ordered CBI investigation into the case. It asked CBI to file an FIR after conducting preliminary investigation in 72 hours.
On March 21, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by TMC leaders to stop the CBI probe and gave the agency one month to conduct the initial probe.
The Central Forensic Laboratory in Hyderabad certified the footage to be genuine and not doctored.
The Trinamool is already facing embarrassment over the imprisonment of two Lok Sabha MPs, Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Paul in connection with the Rose Valley scam that involves about Rs 15,000 crore -- six times larger than the Saradha scandal of 2013.
The CBI’s FIR also comes at a time when the BJP is making serious efforts to gain a foothold in Bengal where the Trinamool Congress won a thumping majority for a second successive term in 2016.