Videos, witnesses in Narada case show 4 TMC leaders took cash: CBI sleuths
Videos made during the sting operation, voice samples, and statements from witnesses ostensibly confirmed that Trinamool Congress leaders Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee took cash from journalist Mathew Samuel (who was pretending to be a businessman seeking to further his interests) in 2014, according to details of the investigation and the charge sheet shared with HT by two Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials.
The four were arrested on Monday by the federal agency. TMC has raised questions about the lack of action against Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari, formerly with the party, who have since defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, but CBI officials said there was no clear evidence against the former, and that the agency is still awaiting the Lok Sabha speaker’s permission, sought in 2019 (Adhikari was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014, but resigned in 2016) to proceed against him.
CBI began investigating the sting, which came to light in 2016, just ahead of the assembly elections in the state, in April 2017 by registering an FIR against Mukul Roy (now a BJP vice president), Madan Mitra, Sultan Ahmed, Iqbal Ahmed, Firhad Hakim, Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee, Suvendu Adhikari (now in the BJP and the leader of the Opposition in West Bengal), Sovan Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee, IPS officer SMH Meerza, and Aparupa Poddar.
The investigation was around whether, as shown in the sting, these people took bribes from Samuel, who approached them in 2014 posing as Santosh Shankaran, representative of M/s Impex Consultancy, Chennai, a fictitious firm, seeking favours from them to further the business interests of the company in the state.
During investigation, CBI said it found two video files on Madan Mitra, dated April 24 and April 25, 2014. “In the second video file, it is found that Samuel offered money to Mitra in the presence of Syed Tazdar Ali Meerza, and kept the bundle of currency notes on a bed in front of Mitra, and said it was ₹5 lakh. Mitra then asked somebody to pick up the money,” said one of the CBI officers cited in the first instance, quoting details of the charge sheet filed on Monday. This person asked not to be named.
Similarly, a video of Firhad Hakim from May 2, 2014 ostensibly revealed that Samuel offered him ₹5 lakh. “Hakim asked him to keep that with himself and then called Sudhendu Samanta, joint secretary of Chetala Agrani Club, who was present in the adjoining room. When Samanta arrived, Hakim directed him to accept the money in another room and deposit it in an account,” said a second officer who asked not to be named, also citing details from the charge sheet.
This money, according to a CBI investigation, was deposited in the account of Chetala Agrani Club by Samanta on May 11, 2014, showing the donation in the name of “a well wisher from Chennai”. It also reflects in the Income Tax Return of the club for financial year 2014-15, the agency’s officers said.
On Sovan Chatterje, the CBI officers said it has two video files, dated April 16 and May 1, 2014. In the video from April 16, Sovan Chatterjee is apparently seen sitting in his office chamber when Samuel approaches him and offers to support TMC in the elections. “During conversations, Samuel offered him ₹4lakh in bundles of currency notes which Chatterjee accepted and wrapped in a small towel and kept it on his side,” the second officer added. Chatterjee quit TMC to join BJP last year but left in March.
Similarly, Samuel approached Subrata Mukherjee on April 13, 2014 and introduced himself as liaison agent of some companies and offered to help in the election, the officer added. “Samuel handed over ₹4 lakh to Mukherjee who accepted the same in the presence of a party worker,” he said.
The CBI charge sheet mentions that all four have been identified by their pictures and voices from the corresponding video files by independent witnesses. CBI took voice samples of all the accused, except Iqbal Ahmed, who declined to cooperate.
All the four arrested leaders have denied any wrongdoing.
According to the officers cited above, the agency, however, has not found any direct evidence that Mukul Roy, a former TMC leader who switched to Bharatiya Janata Party in 2017, took a bribe.
“We have 2-3 videos in which Samuel is seen offering him money, but Mukul Roy didn’t take it. He asked Samuel to meet IPS officer Meerza. We have videos of Meerza taking the money but he never admitted that it was on behalf of Mukul Roy. Unless we have fresh evidence which can prove otherwise, there is only suspicion against Roy but no hard evidence,” said a third CBI officer, who didn’t want to be named.
On Monday, following the arrest of the four TMC leaders, party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh had said: “Why isn’t Mukul Roy, vice president of BJP, being arrested? He was also seen in the Narada sting operation video saying that the money be given to an IPS officer.”
As for Adhikari and three other TMC leaders, Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh and Prasun Banerjee, CBI officials said the investigation is over but that they are waiting for a prosecution sanction from the Lok Sabha speaker. Roy, Ghosh and Banerjee are all Lok Sabha members.