After getting custody of Partha Chatterjee and his close associate Aprita Mukherjee for two more days on Wednesday (August 3), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is confident of bringing to book the “non-cooperative” former Bengal minister in the recruitment scam.
A special court in Kolkata ruled that the two accused arrested on July 23 over money laundering charges will continue to remain in ED custody till August 5.
The challenge for the ED now will be to utilise the extended custody to link the minister with the money recovered from the properties of the actor-and-model.
During interrogations so far, Chatterjee has been maintaining that over ₹50 crore in cash and other movable assets recovered from two flats of Arpita Mukherjee did not belong to him.
The ED told the court that the former TMC general secretary is not fully cooperating with the investigation, the sources in the agency said, adding Chatterjee has been consistently claiming that he had nothing to do with the seized cash and jewellery. He has also been denying his involvement in the School Service Commission (SSC) scam.
“The denial will make the ED’s job to nail the minister difficult in the scam as the investigating agency will have to prove in the court of law that the seized money belonged to the accused ousted minister,” said Pankaj Dutta, a former inspector general of West Bengal police.
Even ED officials admit the denial is a ploy by Chatterjee to get himself acquitted. But they say in the same breath that the “trick” will not work as they have enough evidence to link Chatterjee with his female associate and to prove that the former minister has disproportionate assets.
In the affidavit filed ahead of the 2021 West Bengal assembly polls, Chatterjee claimed that his total wealth was ₹1,15,94,863 (or 1.15 crore). This includes a two-and-half storey building built over 1.4 kathas (one katha is equal to 720 square feet) of land valued ₹25 lakh.
Nine flats, 11 bank accounts and more
The ED during the course of investigation, however, found deeds of several properties Chatterjee jointly owned with Arpita Mukherjee in various parts of the state, sources said. The value of these properties is much more than what the former TMC leader had declared in his election affidavit, they added.
The investigation so far led to the recovery of several documents that allegedly showed that the accused duo jointly owns several companies, farm houses and flats.
One such company is the APA Utility Services. Chatterjee and Arpita hold 50 per cent share each in the company. The ED believes the abbreviation stands for Arpita-Partha.
The central agency while seeking the extended custody of the duo told the special court that there are nine flats among various properties owned by the accused. Partha and Arpita are the joint owners of four flats. Five others are registered in the name of Arpia Mukherjee.
At least 11 bank accounts linked to the duo are also under ED’s scanner. Around ₹8 crore is parked in the accounts.
Further, the ED found that Chatterjee’s monthly fruit bill alone cost him more than ₹2 lakh. This, the agency sources point out, does not match with the annual income Chatterjee disclosed in his election affidavit.
In the affidavit filed with the Election Commission, the Behala West MLA mentioned that his annual income in 2019-20 was just ₹5.39 lakh, which is less than ₹50,000 per month.
Wealth collected from aspirants: ED
The ED is of the view that the wealth was amassed by collecting huge amounts of money collected from aspirants of teaching and non-teaching jobs in government schools when Chatterjee was the state education minister between 2014 and 2021.
The genesis of the scam dates back to 2014 when the West Bengal SSC issued a notification for the appointment of 17,000 teachers in state-run schools through a state level selection test (SLST).
The SSC conducted examinations for the recruitment in teaching and non-teaching posts in 2016. The result was announced in November 2017 in which one Babita Sarkar topped the list of successful candidates.
The merit list was later cancelled by the SSC and a new list was announced in which Babita’s name did not figure among the top 20.
In the new list, the name of Ankita Adhikari, the daughter of former West Bengal minister Paresh Adhikari, was included.
Sniffing irregularities, some of the aspirants, helped by senior lawyer and CPI(M) leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, moved the Calcutta High Court seeking justice.
The court formed a committee headed by retired Justice Ranjeet Kumar Bagh to probe the alleged irregularities.
The panel found irregularities, prompting the court to order a CBI inquiry. The ED took up the case in June this year to investigate the money trail.
The rest, as they say, is history.