Are they complicit in the crime or mere gullible victims of love and friendship?
This is one question weighing heavily on the mind of investigators as several accused in the West Bengal job-for-cash scam were found to be splurging a large sum of their “ill-gotten” money on their female friends.
Also read: SSC scam: ED confident it has enough evidence to nail Partha Chatterjee, aide Arpita
Sleuths of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are investigating the role of these female characters in the scam to find whether they were just passive beneficiaries or partners in the ₹3,000-crore scam.
“There seems to be one or two female allies of almost all the accused in the scam. Apart from buying them luxurious cars and flats, the accused even parked money with their female companions with whom many of them have owned joint properties and bank accounts,” said an investigator.
Arpita Mukherjee, a case in point
The first major female character to pop out in the scam is model and actor Arpita Mukherjee, who played character roles in a few Bengali and Odia films.
The ED while investigating the role of then education minister, Partha Chatterjee, stumbled upon this character, who frequently hosted the minister in her South-Kolkata flat.
Raids at her two Kolkata flats in July last year led to recovery of wads of cash, jewelleries and documents.
Arpita owned two high-end cars – a Mercedes and a Mini Cooper – thanks to the now-sacked minister. ED claimed Chatterjee made advance payments for two more cars he had booked for his “close companions.”
The former minister jointly owned a plot of land they bought at Shantiniketan in 2012. Arpita purchased over 15 properties between 2012 and 2022, allegedly with money provided by Chatterjee. He has also been named as a nominee in 31 life insurance policies of Arpita. The annual premium of these policies was over ₹1 crore.
In February last year, a few months before their arrests, Chatterjee had even issued a no-objection certificate as a “close family friend” to Arpita to adopt a child, the ED said. However, the adoption did not take place.
The two held assets worth ₹103 crore, the ED claimed.
Also read: Money placed in my house without my knowledge, claims Arpita Mukherjee
During a virtual court hearing earlier this month, the 70-year-old sacked minister teased Arpita by making a face, sticking out his tongue and showing a heart sign with fingers, much to her amusement.
More names surface
Theirs is not the only relationship to come under the scanner in the multi-crore scam. The ED had also probed the source of properties owned by another woman named Monalisa Das, an acquaintance of Chatterjee. But nothing came out so far to link her to the scam.
The latest pulchritudinous female to figure in the scam is another lesser-known Bengali actor and a government employee, Sweta Chakraborty.
Her name surfaced after ED came across some documents while searching the residence and office of one construction promoter Ayan Sil, who was arrested in the teacher recruitment scam on March 20.
Ayan has at least one joint bank account with Sweta and co-owns a flat with her at Kamarhati, the ED found so far. He even presented a Honda City car to Sweta besides regularly transferring money to her accounts, sources in the investigating agency disclosed.
Ayan transferred at least ₹20-25 lakh to her accounts in the past few years, the ED claimed. The two got acquainted through Sil’s wife in 2017, according to the investigating agency.
To give Sweta a break in the entertainment industry, Ayan reportedly even produced a movie where she played a character role, sources added. The film could not be completed because of lack of funds.
‘Loans given from proceeds of crime’
Another model and budding actor Haimanti Ganguly’s name was also doing rounds in the case when an accused and another sacked TMC leader Kuntal Ghosh claimed she was one of the beneficiaries. Haimanti, however, refuted the allegations. The ED has not put her under its scanner yet.
The investigators while examining bank account details of Kuntal however found that ₹50 lakh was transferred in several phases to the account of one beauty salon owner Soma Chakraborty.
During interrogations Soma claimed she took the money from Kuntal as loan. She returned the amount following ED’s instruction. The loan amount purportedly was part of the proceeds of the scam.
The expelled TMC leader had also financed Bengali film actor Bonny Sengupta aka Anupriyo Sengupta to purchase a high-end premium vehicle. He returned ₹40 lakh to the ED, which he claimed to have received as fees for performing in the events organised by Kuntal.