CBI summons ex-Kolkata police chief today for questioning in Saradha scam
Rajeev Kumar’s plea seeking extension of his protection from arrest, which ended on Friday, was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has issued a notice asking immigration authorities at airports and other exit points across the country to stop former Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar if he tries to leave the country, according to officers of the agency aware of the development.
The officers said the lookout notice was issued after the agency through its independent sources learnt that Kumar was planning to proceed on study leave abroad.
Later in the day, a team of four officers from the economic offences wing of CBI asked Kumar to appear before the agency at Salt Lake on Monday. The CBI team visited the official bungalow of the former Kolkata Police commissioner but the guards informed them that Kumar had vacated the house and moved into a nearby complex that also houses the office of the deputy commissioner of police (south).
They served the notice at the complex. Kumar, however, was not present there.
The West Bengal government on Sunday reinstated Kumar as additional director general in the criminal investigation department (CID), from where the Election Commission of India removed him before the polls. The CBI team went to the CID office in Alipore and served a second notice.
“In view of the withdrawal of ‘Model Code of Conducts’,... the Governor is pleased to direct Rajeev Kumar to resume duty,” the government notification said.
The development comes days after the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed Kumar’s plea seeking protection against his arrest in the Saradha chit fund case.
The court asked CBI to proceed as per the law in the case.
Kumar was in charge of West Bengal Police’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the alleged scam before CBI took over the case in 2014. He is accused of tampering with the evidence in the case.
CBI has sought Kumar’s custodial interrogation to unearth a “larger conspiracy” even as the former Kolkata Police commissioner has called the action against him “political vendetta”. The investigating agency told the apex court that Kumar allowed the release of mobile phones and laptops that contained crucial records of the alleged involvement of politicians in the scam when he was in charge of the SIT.
“The custodial interrogation of Kumar is necessary as he is not cooperating with the probe. He [Kumar] was evasive and arrogant in answering queries put to him during his questioning [in February],” a CBI officer said on condition of anonymity.
The CBI officer added that they will soon approach a concerned court and seek an arrest and search warrant against Kumar. He added Kumar’s arrest is “imminent”.
CBI’s action against Kumar led to a standoff between the Centre and West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in January. A CBI team was detained when it went to question Kumar in Kolkata while Banerjee sat on a sit-in protest calling the agency’s action political vendetta.
HT this month reported that CBI claims to have found at least five calls between Kumar and an employee of the Saradha Group, who reported to the mastermind of the alleged scam, Sudipta Sen. Another top CBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told HT that the agency’s investigators were inching closer to establishing that the officer was involved in tampering with evidence in the case.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that several TMC leaders were involved in the alleged scam and that it prompted Kumar’s alleged interference into the probe. The TMC has maintained that the BJP was using CBI to settle political scores. Former TMC leader Mukul Roy was questioned in the case before he joined the BJP.
Banerjee and the TMC linked the CBI’s efforts to question Kumar in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls to the BJP’s efforts to make inroads into the state. The BJP managed to register its best-ever performance in the state in Lok Sabha elections by winning 18 out of the 42 seats. It won just two seats in 2014.
The Supreme Court handed over the probe in the case to CBI to look into alleged collusion of scheme operators, police personnel and politicians.
At least 1.7 million depositors were duped to the extent of ~3,500 crore in the scam.
In April 2013, Saradha founder Sudipta Sen wrote an 18-page confessional letter to CBI, in which he admitted that he had paid large sums of money to several politicians, businessmen, journalists, and others.
The company’s modus operandi was to lure investors to deposit money in its schemes with glossy brochures and the promise of abnormally high returns.
The Supreme Court on February 5 prevented CBI from any coercive action against Kumar and directed him to appear and co-operate in questioning at a “neutral place”. Kumar was questioned for nearly five days in Shillong in February.
Kumar reported to the Union home ministry on May 16 after the Election Commission of India transferred him following violence in Kolkata during BJP president Amit Shah’s rally. Kumar served as additional director general (Criminal Investigation Department) before his transfer.