Abhishek Banerjee got ₹900 cr from coal, cow smuggling, alleges BJP; releases ‘proof’
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari, who contested against chief minister Mamata Banerjee at East Midnapore district’s Nandigram assembly seat on April 1, released an audio clip at a press conference on Sunday and claimed that Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s nephew and TMC’s youth wing president, received ₹900 crore from rackets that smuggled cow, coal and sand.
“We have heard that ₹400-500 crore is being used by the TMC in the ongoing polls. This money came from the smuggling of coal and sand. Central agencies will probe these but the people of Bengal have to decide during the remaining six phases of polling whether they want a corrupt government. The operations started in 2012-13. Initially, Abhishek Banerjee used to get ₹15-20 crore a month. Later, the amount increased to ₹35-40 crore. Inspector Ashok Mishra used to carry the money to him with a police escort. Anup Majhi used to run the operation,” said Adhikari.
The BJP claimed the audio clip contained a conversation between Kolkata-based businessman Ganesh Bagaria and Vinay Mishra, the absconding general secretary of the youth wing of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Bagaria and Mishra are suspects in the multi-crore coal smuggling scam that central agencies are probing. Mishra is suspected to have fled to a foreign country.
Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s national information technology cell, who was also present at the press conference, alleged that the rackets were involved in human trafficking as well.
In the audio clip, the veracity of which was not independently verified by HT, one man could be heard telling the other that money from the coal scam went to Abhishek Banerjee.
The BJP released the clip less than 12 hours after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Ashok Mishra, an inspector of the West Bengal police who was posted in Bankura district. “He has more evidence, which will be released later,” said Adhikari.
Without naming TMC’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor or i-Pac, his company, Adhikari said, “The agency hired by the TMC is also being paid from these illegal funds.”
It is alleged that illegally mined coal, worth several hundred crores of rupees, has been sold in the black market over several years by a racket operating in the western parts of West Bengal where the Eastern Coalfields Limited runs several mines. Several ECL officials have already been grilled by central agencies.
Majhi has been summoned thrice for interrogation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). He will be grilled again on Monday. The sub-divisional police officer of Radhunathpur in Bankura has also been summoned. In the last two months, the CBI and the ED have grilled more than a dozen police officers, businessmen and suspected members of the coal smuggling racket.
None of the agencies has made any official statement on these investigations till now. On Sunday, too, no official commented on the audio clip.
The CBI has already questioned Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira Naroola, her sister Maneka Gambhir, the latter’s husband Ankush Arora and his father Pawan Arora in the coal smuggling case. Earlier, several cow traders and Border Security Force officers were grilled by the CBI in the cow smuggling case.
On November 6, the CBI raided properties and offices owned by Majhi at 18 locations in the state. Union home minister Amit Shah had lunch at a tribal home in Bankura district on that day as part of his two-day trip to Bengal. Since then, the BJP is campaigning on this issue, saying the TMC is hand in glove with the coal mafia.
In December, the CBI raided three residences of businessman and youth TMC general secretary Vinay Mishra.
Ever since the probe started in September, the BJP has been alleging that the money from the illegal sale of coal and cow was whitewashed through shell companies and siphoned into the funds of the ruling party.
Dismissing the fresh allegations made on Sunday, Bengal’s deputy parliamentary affairs minister Tapas Roy said, “Why is the BJP making these allegations in the middle of the elections? They brought similar charges in the past as well. It had no effect. This, too, will prove to be a futile attempt.”
Other opposition parties upped the ante against the TMC.
“People need to know how the TMC is getting money to hire helicopters for the ongoing campaign. Didn’t the chief minister know anything about this largescale corruption,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, the outgoing MLA from Jadavpur in south Kolkata.
“The chief minister cannot shake off her responsibility. The truth must be revealed,” said state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.