The CBI carried out raids at the residences of a few businessmen, including a TMC leader, in and around Kolkata on Thursday (December 31) in connection with cattle smuggling and illegal coal trade.
The raids were part of the renewed proactiveness of the central investigating agencies in Bengal ahead of the assembly election due in less than six months.
In sync with the crackdown, the BJP has upped its ante against the ruling Trinamool Congress accusing it of involvement in illegal cattle and coal trades.
The party has been alleging that the ill-gotten money from the illegal trades is being used to fund the TMC.
CBI sources claimed that Thursday’s raids at the residences of TMC’s youth wing general secretary Vinay Mishra were conducted following information that through him the money from the illegal trades were channelised to some “top politicians.”
Mishra, a businessman by profession, was appointed as general secretary of the TMC’s youth wing only a few months ago and he is regarded as close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
This is the first time a TMC leader has come under scanner in the alleged multi-crore cross-border cattle smuggling and illegal coal mining cases being investigated in the state by three central agencies — the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income-Tax Department.
Mishra was not found at his residences. Sources said the tower location of Mishra’s mobile phone showed that he was out of the state. A lookout notice has been issued against him.
Apart from Mishra’s two premises in Kolkata, CBI sleuths also raided houses of two other businessmen, Amit Singh and Naveen Singh, near Kolkata.
The raids were conducted significantly with CRPF personnel, keeping the state police out of the operation. To avoid any Centre-state conflict, the CBI was also armed with court orders for the operations.
Through these businessmen, the CBI is trying to nail some top politicians of the TMC and senior police officials who were allegedly involved in the twin scam, the sources said.
The alleged kingpins of the cattle smuggling racket, Mohammad Enamul Haque, was arrested by the CBI from New Delhi last month. A senior BSF official Satish Kumar was also booked in this connection.
CBI sources the investigating agency got information of the money trail from a diary seized from Enamul Haque. There were several entries in the diary about payment of crores of rupees, the sources said.
The diary has been submitted to the court.
In November, the CBI had raided 45 places in West Bengal, Jharkhand and other states in connection with illegal mining and theft of coal from the Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL).
During the course of the raid, a security official of the ECL in Asansol, Dhananjay Roy, died of heart attack.
The searches were based on an FIR filed by the investigating agency against ECL officials and a businessman Anup Majhi, who is also known as Lala.
The CBI sources said Lala has connections with several influential politicians in West Bengal and Jharkhand and runs several open-cast coal mines along the Bengal-Jharkhand border.
Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to the state immediately after the raids in November tried to link Majhi with Mamata Banerjee asking at a press meet, “Why is Mamata didi is so concerned about the raids against ‘Lala’?”
The BJP’s latest import from the TMC, Suvendu Adhikari, at a recent rally accusing the TMC leaders of being involved in smuggling of cattle and coals, alleged, “If the TMC returns to power, it will start an illegal kidney trade racket.”
The TMC, refuting the charges, points to the involvement of BSF, Custom and Coal India officials in the illegal trade.
“Cattle smuggling is done through international borders guarded by the BSF, which is under the Union home ministry. Similarly, it is the Coal Ministry’s responsibility to check illegal coal mining and trade. If there are irregularities, it is the central government which is responsible,” said senior TMC leader and MP Saugata Roy.
The CBI is also reportedly planning to file a final charge-sheet in the multi-crore-rupee Saradha chit fund scam in January next year.
Before filing of the charge-sheet, it wants to take into custody senior IPS officer and former Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar for questioning to unearth a “larger conspiracy.”
The CBI sources said they had reason to believe that Kumar, as head of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the state government to probe the ₹2,500-crore scam, tried to tamper with evidence and hide relevant documents to shield some accused.
The CBI last week moved the Supreme Court seeking Kumar’s arrest. The apex court is expected to take up the plea next month after the winter break.
The CBI director, Rishi Kumar Shukla, had earlier directed the bureau’s Kolkata office to complete filing of all the FIRs related to Ponzi scams in the state by January 2021.
According to CBI sources, the draft of the final chargesheet in the Saradha scam contains names of 20 influential persons close to the state’s ruling dispensation. The draft is now under the scrutiny of the CBI’s legal department.