CBI summons Bengal industry minister for questioning in I-Core ponzi scam
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has summoned West Bengal industry minister Partha Chatterjee on September 13 for questioning in the I-Core ponzi scam the agency is probing since 2014.
The senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader is the party’s observer for the September 30 by-election in Kolkata’s Bhawanipore assembly constituency where Mamata Banerjee is contesting to continue as chief minister since she took oath after the losing from Nandigram in East Midnapore district.
The summons were sent on Wednesday, 48 hours after TMC national general secretary and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee was questioned for almost nine hours by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Delhi in connection with the coal smuggling case that the CBI is also probing.
The CBI and ED had summoned Chatterjee in March and April respectively but he did not appear before the agencies saying he was campaigning for the polls. He won the Behala West assembly seat in south-west Kolkata for the fifth time.
The agencies have in their custody some video clips showing Chatterjee at a public event with Anukul Maity, the managing director of I-Core, said a CBI officer who did not want to be named.
The I-Core sponsored event was held in 2011, the year TMC came to power. Maity died in judicial custody in November last year. His company allegedly raised around ₹7000 crore from the market by promising high returns.
In 2014, the Supreme Court asked the CBI to investigate all the Ponzi operations in Bengal, including Saradha, Rose Valley and I-Core, and the role of influential people in money laundering. The ED is running a parallel probe.
Chatterjee was not available for comments but the chief minister targeted the Centre and accused it of activating the probe agencies before the Bhawanipore by-poll and polls in two seats to be held in Murshidabad district where two candidates died of Covid-19 before the March-April contest.
“They summoned Abhishek and Partha. Why? The agencies have become proactive because of the elections. They are summoning those who did nothing and not touching the one who took money,” the chief minister said at a TMC workers’ meeting in Bhawanipore on Wednesday evening, indirectly referring to her protégé-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari who was purportedly seen in the Narada sting videos and is also an accused in the Saradha case. He defeated Banerjee in Nandigram.
On September 1, a special CBI court in Kolkata permitted the ED to send summons to ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC legislator Madan Mitra, former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee and suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer S M H Meerza in the Narada case.
The ED charged all five were under Sections 44 and 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI on May 17 in the Narada case and released on bail after days of judicial custody during which they were hospitalised.
Sovan Chatterjee joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019 but left after the assembly polls. Meerza was arrested by the CBI in September 2019 and released on bail.
The ED is conducting a parallel investigation in the case which pertains to a controversy that erupted ahead of the 2016 assembly elections after Narada News portal uploaded a series of videos purportedly showing several high-profile TMC leaders receiving money in exchange for favours to a fictitious company.
Since the ED has also filed charges against TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh in the Saradha case he appeared before a special CBI court in Kolkata on Thursday and was granted bail. Ghosh, a former Rajya Sabha member, did not contest the recent polls.
“The chief minister’s allegations are baseless. The probe agencies work independently. BJP has nothing to do with them,” said Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.