ED summons 4 Bengal businessmen held earlier by CBI in coal smuggling case
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned to Delhi the four businessmen who were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) two months ago in the Bengal coal smuggling case, officials aware of the development said.
The suspects, Joydeb Mondal, Narayan Nanda, Nirad Mondal and Gurupada Majhi were arrested on September 27 from West Burdwan and Bankura districts. They were recently released on bail from judicial custody.
Although the ED had earlier arrested three people, including a state police inspector, the CBI, which is conducting a parallel investigation, did not arrest anyone in the coal smuggling case before September 27, almost ten months after starting the probe.
ED officials said the four have been asked to appear for questioning at the agency’s office in Delhi next week.
The CBI suspects that they ran the operation on behalf of Anup Majhi alias Lala, the racket’s alleged kingpin named in the first information report (FIR) the agency registered in November 2020. Majhi, was however, granted immunity from arrest by the Supreme Court. He has appealed for extension of the court order.
According to the CBI, 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 the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) runs a number of mines.
“The four businessmen are suspected to have played a crucial role in transporting this coal to different parts of Bengal as well as adjacent states. They allegedly sent the sale proceeds to some influential people,” an ED official said on condition of anonymity.
A senior West Bengal police officer, who did not want to be identified, said that among the four, Joydep Mondal was held on multiple charges even during the Left Front regime that ended when the Trinamool Congress (TMC) came to power in 2011.
The CBI and ED have questioned some Indian Police Service (IPS) officers posted in Bengal as well as a number of ECL officials. The ED summoned IPS officers, Shyam Singh, Gyanwant Singh and S Selvamurugan to Delhi in September.
The coal smuggling case is a raging political issue in Bengal.
On September 6, TMC national general secretary and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, was questioned by the ED in Delhi for almost nine hours. He was summoned for the second time on September 8 but Banerjee told the agency that he was unable to travel from Kolkata at such short notice. He was subsequently summoned on September 21.
Before summoning Banerjee, the ED wanted to question his wife, Rujira Banerjee, in the first week of September. She however did not go to the ED’s office in Delhi saying travelling during the Covid pandemic would be risky for a mother of two infants.
Rujira Banerjee was first questioned by the CBI in February. The CBI team visited Abhishek Banerjee’s residence. In March, the CBI also questioned Rujira’s sister Maneka Gambhir and the latter’s husband Ankush Arora and father-in-law Pawan Arora.
Among the prime suspects in this case is former TMC youth front general secretary and businessman Vinay Mishra who renounced his Indian citizenship in December and became a citizen of Vanuatu, a small island country in the southwest Pacific. The agencies have sealed his assets in Kolkata and arrested his brother, Vikash.
Incidentally, Abhishek Banerjee, a Lok Sabha member, will also be in Delhi next week to hold a meeting with the TMC’s Parliament members.
Before facing the ED on September 6, Banerjee threw a challenge at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying using probe agencies against TMC leaders will not help the saffron camp gain any political ground in Bengal.
“TMC will never bow before you (BJP). Do whatever you can. If the ED has any evidence against me, make it public. If anybody can prove that I have accepted even ten paisa from anyone I will voluntarily walk to the gallows and hang myself,” Banerjee had said before reaching the ED office.