Three shell firms used to launder money in Bengal ration scam: ED
The federal agency on Friday arrested Jyoti Priya Mallick, a minister of the chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led cabinet
Three alleged Kolkata-based shell companies were used for laundering the proceeds of crime of the so-called ration distribution scam in West Bengal, officials of the Enforcement Directorate said on Saturday.
The three shell companies were used to legalise the black money, which was the proceeds of crime arising out of the alleged scam, an agency official claimed on condition of anonymity.
The federal agency on Friday arrested Jyoti Priya Mallick, a minister of the chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led cabinet, in this connection after questioning him and searching his houses for almost 20 hours since Thursday.
During raids in Mallick’s premises on Thursday, the directorate allegedly found rubber stamps of the three companies -- Gracious Creation Pvt Ltd, Shree Hanuman Realcon Pvt Ltd and Gracious Innovative Pvt Ltd. Rubber stamps of two more Bankura-based companies -- AJ Agrotech and AJ Royal -- were also found.
“Initially, both Mallick and his wife had been saying that they had no knowledge about the firms. But when the rubber stamps were found, they started fumbling,” the official claimed.
All the three companies were opened in 2008 with the same address, a ground floor of a residential building on Jessore Road at Nagerbazar in Kolkata, the ED said.
On October 14, the ED had arrested businessman Bakibur Rahaman, who they alleged would siphon off rice and wheat meant to be supplied to ration distributors, only to be sold in the open market. The ED has now alleged that Rahaman has “close ties” with Mallick.
While Mallick’s daughter and wife were earlier associated with these firms, they are now run by Rahaman and his brother-in-law. The wife, daughter and mother of Mallick’s domestic help were allegedly made directors of these companies.
“The ED is making all baseless allegations. They would have to prove all these in court,” said Anindya Raut, Mallick’s advocate.
Huge transactions, including crores of cash deposits, were allegedly made through these companies, the ED has learnt. “Between 2016 November and 2017 March, at least ₹6.3 crore and ₹3.7 crore were deposited in the accounts of Mallick’s wife and daughter from these companies,” the ED official said.
The agency has frozen the bank accounts of Mallick, his wife and daughter. His mobile phones are also likely to be sent for forensic analysis to retrieve chat and call history.
The agency claims to have found transactions of at least ₹12 crore made through these companies. It also claimed that during interrogation Rahaman confessed that Mallick took loans of around ₹20 crore from these companies, which he never returned.
“The ED is making some baseless allegations. They are not shell companies... They may make any allegations in court and before the media, but they won’t be able to substantiate them in the court,” said Arko Bhattacharya, Rahaman’s counsel.
“We are hopeful to get bail soon. The ED had registered its ECIR (enforcement case information report) based on five FIRs registered between 2020 and 2022 in various police stations in Nadia district against siphoning off of government food grains,” Bhattacharya said. “My client’s name doesn’t appear in any of the five FIRs,” .
Rahaman was produced before a court on Saturday after 14 days of ED custody came to an end. He was sent to judicial custody till November 11.
Meanwhile, Amit Dey, personal assistant of Mallick and Abhijit Das, a close associate of the minister, both of whose houses were also searched on Thursday, appeared before the ED for questioning on Saturday.
“A maroon-coloured diary, found from Das’ house during the search, has details of several transactions. The name Balu da (as Mallick is popular known as) was written on the diary,” the official said.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party insinuated the guilt of the minister of the Trinamool congress party.
“The Who, When, Where and How Much of the @AITCofficial industry of Scams will come out as the infamous ‘Maroon Diary of Balu’ turns its pages...” Sukanta Majumdar, state BJP president, wrote on his X (formerly Twitter) handle.
The ruling party criticised the oppostion for ppinting fingers. “The BJP party is on the wane in West Bengal because of their infighting. Their MPs are speaking out against their state president. Corrupt politicians join the party to evade ED and CBI probes. Out of the 303 MPs, 116 have criminal cases pending against them,” parliamentarian Santanu Sen told the media. “This party has no right to point fingers at others.”