CBI arrests 7 Eastern Coalfields staff for involvement in smuggling case
The CBI earlier questioned many officers of the ECL, Central Industrial Security Force (which guards the mines) and Bengal police officers. The CBI is probing not only theft of coal from old and sealed mines of the ECL but also illegal open cast mines
Seven employees of the Eastern Coalfields Limited, including three former and a serving general manager, were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Kolkata late on Wednesday evening after they were interrogated for seven hours in the coal smuggling case, officials aware of the development said.
Suspected of accepting bribe from the coal mafia, the arrested men were taken for medical examination at about 8.30 pm. They will be produced before a special CBI court at Asansol in West Burdwan district on Thursday, officials said.
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 ECL - an arm of Coal India Limited owned by the Union coal ministry - runs several mines.
The CBI did not make any official statement till 10 pm but it was learnt that one of the arrested men is a manager while the remaining two are junior employees of the ECL. The agency did not disclose the names of the accused persons.
The CBI, which started the investigation in November 2020, earlier questioned many officers of the ECL, Central Industrial Security Force (which guards the mines) and Bengal police officers. The CBI is probing not only theft of coal from old and sealed mines of the ECL but also illegal open cast mines.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is carrying out a parallel investigation since money laundering is involved.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) national general secretary and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee was questioned by the ED in Delhi twice earlier this year in the coal smuggling case. Abhishek Banerjee’s wife, Rujira, her sister and the latter’s husband and father-in-law were also interrogated by the CBI.
Rujira Banerjee was last questioned for six hours on June 23 by the ED in Kolkata.
Ever since the probe started, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that money from the sale of smuggled coal was whitewashed through shell companies and siphoned into the funds of the ruling party. The BJP also alleged that the main beneficiary is Abhishek Banerjee.
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said on Wednesday that his party will not comment on an ongoing investigation.
“The matter is under investigation. We will not comment on it. However, we did say earlier that the coal mines are run and protected by Central agencies,” said Ghosh.
In April 2021, Ashok Mishra, the officer-in-charge of Bankura police station, was arrested by the ED in Delhi. He was also questioned by the CBI. It is alleged that he physically transported cash from the district to Kolkata.
On November 6, 2021, the CBI raided properties and offices owned at 18 locations in Bengal by Anup Majhi, alias Lala, the alleged kingpin of the coal smuggling operation.
Majhi, who was born in a poor family in Purulia district, now owns a business empire, according to CBI and ED officers. Majhi initially remained untraceable but subsequently moved the Supreme Court that granted him immunity from arrest. It is alleged that he collaborated with former TMC youth wing general secretary Vinay Mishra to run the coal business.
On Wednesday, when the ECL officials were being questioned by the CBI in Kolkata, the ED filed a petition at the Patiala Court in Delhi, praying that Vinay Mishra be declared an economic offender.
On March 16, the CBI court at Asansol issued an arrest warrant against Mishra who renounced his Indian citizenship in December 2020 and became a citizen of Vanuatu, a small island country in the south-west Pacific.
The Asansol court declared Mishra an absconder in early-May after the CBI informed the court that the warrant could not be executed because he is untraceable.
Mishra has been named by the CBI as a prime suspect. His brother, Vikas, was arrested earlier by the ED and named in the agency’s first chargesheet filed in August last year.
On Tuesday, the ED also attached properties worth around ₹26 crore belonging to Joydeb Mondal and Gurupada Majhi. They were among the first four people to be arrested by the CBI in this case. The CBI suspects that they ran the operation for Anup Majhi.
Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said: “Arresting some ECL officials is not enough. Some important people are suspects in this case. They need to be arrested as well.”
ECL has not responded so far.