Former TMC leader left India before CBI filed smuggling case, Abhishek Manu Singhvi tells HC
Representing former Trinamool Congress (TMC) youth wing general secretary Vinay Mishra, who is facing an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in cattle and coal smuggling cases, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Wednesday raised objection to the agency’s action during a Calcutta High Court hearing.
Singhvi told the court during a virtual hearing that Mishra left India before the probe against him started and when he left the country he had no knowledge about the case. The case was heard by Justice Tirthankar Ghosh.
The CBI has issued a red corner notice for Mishra. On Monday, during a hearing, Mishra’s lawyers filed an affidavit stating he renounced his citizenship on December 19 last year by filing an application at the Indian Consulate in Dubai. The application was accepted on December 22, the affidavit said.
Though Mishra’s lawyers have not made any statement on his current location, CBI officials suspect that he is living in Vanuatu, a small island in Polynesia.
Singhvi, on Wednesday, also told the court that the CBI initiated the case against Mishra without taking any sanction from the state government.
In 2018, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal withdrew the general consent accorded to the CBI to conduct investigations and raids in these states.
Singhvi sought quashing of the case saying a case against Mishra was lodged at the Asansol court in Bengal’s West Burdwan district. He argued that the CBI has no document against Mishra to show his involvement in cattle and coal smuggling except handwritten entries in a diary in which the name of the accused is mentioned. A handwritten diary has no legal value, Singhvi said.
The case will be heard again on Thursday.
The high court on Monday directed that it would hear on merit an application by Mishra for modification of the court’s earlier order asking him to appear before the CBI.
Justice Ghosh on Monday directed that Mishra’s application for protection from arrest and appearance before the CBI through video conferencing would be taken up for hearing on Wednesday.
Singhvi argued on Monday that Mishra’s name did not figure in the first information report (FIR) or the initial charge sheet. His name was registered in 2020 although the alleged crime took place between 2015 and 2017.
Mishra prayed for modification of an order the high court passed on April 22, asking him to appear before the CBI in person on May 3. He prayed for permission to join the investigation through video conferencing in view of the pandemic.
Mishra prayed for protection from arrest till disposal of his petition before the high court and cancellation of the application for red corner notice with the Interpol.
Additional Solicitor General YJ Dastoor, who appeared for the CBI, opposed the prayer on Monday, saying the petitioner suppressed facts when the initial application was moved before the high court.
In the modified application, Mishra claimed that he left India on September 16, 2020, much before the registration of the case on September 21, 2020 and another FIR on November 27.
He claimed that he did not receive any notice or summons from the CBI before leaving the country. He claimed that one of the main reasons for which he had to leave India was life threats from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members. He did not name anyone. Mishra alleged that he is being targeted by central agencies as he is an ex-general secretary of the TMC youth wing.
The Enforcement Directorate arrested his brother Vikas in March and also attached his property.
During the recent assembly polls, the BJP alleged that chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and then youth TMC president Abhishek Banerjee was involved in the coal smuggling case.
It is alleged that illegally mined coal, worth hundreds of 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 runs mines.
The CBI questioned Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira Banerjee and her sister Maneka Gambhir. The latter’s husband, Ankush Arora, and his father Pawan Arora were also interrogated. TMC leaders alleged that BJP is using the agency to keep the chief minister under pressure.