TMC ex-minister created shell firms to buy properties: Charge sheet | Kolkata - Hindustan Times

TMC ex-minister created shell firms to buy properties: Charge sheet

By, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Sep 23, 2022 07:28 AM IST

ED, which filed its first charge sheet against Chatterjee and Mukherjee who were both arrested on July 23, may use the latter as a witness for the state during trial if she does not turn hostile, an agency official said on condition of anonymity.

West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee and his son-in-law Kalyanmoy Bhattacharya were involved in running shell companies through which money generated from the jobs-for-cash racket was routed by Chatterjee to buy property in Kolkata and other districts in West Bengal, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), has claimed in its 172-page charge sheet filed at Kolkata’s Bankshall court on Monday.

Former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee being produced in Alipore court . (ANI)
Former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee being produced in Alipore court . (ANI)

“The links of the family members of the accused person (Partha Chatterjee) with bogus companies, wherein no business was being conducted, have been found on scrutiny of the balance sheets and recording statements of the directors of the companies. These companies were incorporated on the direction of Partha Chatterjee for the sole purpose of managing the funds to hide original source of income and purchasing immovable properties in the name of the companies,” said the charge sheet, a copy of which has been seen by HT.

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ED told the court that it has so far traced cash, jewellery and immovable property worth 103.10 crore linked to the former minister and his friend, Arpita Mukherjee. It has mentioned details of 35 bank accounts, 40 immovable properties, 31 life insurance policies and 201 shell companies. The immovable properties have been attached.

The charge sheet has cited statements given under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) by around a dozen employees and directors of six shell companies. They include Arpita Mukherjee, Manoj Jain alias Manoj Kumar Kathotia and Kamal Kumar Bhutoria, two men described as “intermediaries” by ED, and Kishan Kumar Derasari, a chartered accountant and auditor.

ED, which filed its first charge sheet against Chatterjee and Mukherjee who were both arrested on July 23, may use the latter as a witness for the state during trial if she does not turn hostile, an agency official said on condition of anonymity. Both accused are now in judicial custody.

In May, Calcutta high court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the appointment of a few hundred non-teaching staff (Group C and D) and teaching staff by the West Bengal School Service Commission and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. The appointees allegedly paid bribes in the range of 5-15 lakh to get jobs after failing selection tests between 2014 and 2021, according to a petition filed in the court.

ED, which is conducting a parallel probe, also filed charges against six shell companies that Chatterjee allegedly ran. These are: Echhay Entertainment Pvt Ltd, Ananta Texfab Pvt Ltd, Symbiosis Merchant Pvt Ltd, Sentry Engineering Pvt Ltd, Viewmore Highrise Pvt Ltd and Apa Utility Services.

Though described by Chatterjee as a casual acquaintance, Mukherjee, a small-time actor, figures among the directors of all these companies. Numerous other firms have also come under ED’s scanner during the investigation.

“Partha Chatterjee stated that he is not director, proprietor, partner and does not hold any other position in any entity apart from Apa Utility Services, which never functioned,” the charge sheet said, adding that Chatterjee and Mukherjee have been made accused under Sections 3, 4 and 70 of PMLA.

Section 3 of PMLA refers to individuals involved in money laundering while Section 70 is related to the same crime committed by a company or employees representing it. Section 4 says the quantum of punishment for money laundering is no less than three years of rigorous imprisonment which may be extended up to seven years. The guilty is also liable to fine of up to 5 lakh.

ED officials said different facets of the scam, from involvement of Chatterjee’s family members to functioning of the shell companies, emerged before them as the investigation progressed.

The family connection

Among the six companies charged by ED, Ananta Texfab Pvt Ltd, has been found to be the one that was controlled by Chatterjee and members of his family, the charge sheet said. Chatterjee feigned ignorance about his wife, his daughter and his son-in-law being shareholders of Ananta TaxFab Pvt. Ltd, it added.

When ED recorded Chatterjee’s statement, he was repeatedly asked whether his wife, Babli Chatterjee, who died in 2017, their daughter, Sohini, and her husband, Kalyanmoy Bhattacharya, had shares in any of the companies. He was also asked about the Babli Chatterjee Foundation that built the BCM International School in her memory at a huge expense at Debra in West Midnapore district.

The charge sheet said that the entire amount of around 15 crore used to buy land, construction material and pay workers for building the school was paid in cash by Chatterjee’s son-in-law, who employed his maternal uncle to oversee the work.

The ED investigation revealed that shares of Ananta Texfab were transferred to Bhattacharya, Babli Chattejee and Sohini Chatterjee. Arpita Mukherjee told ED that after Babli Chatterjee’s death, Manoj Jain asked her to take over Chatterjee’s shares in Ananta Texfeb since Sohini Chatterjee was living abroad at that time. Mukherjee described Jain as a “trusted aide” of Partha Chatterjee.

The charge sheet said that during the probe, Kalyanmoy Bhattacharya’s uncle, Krishana Chandra Adhikary, who was involved in farming business and earned 20-30 thousand a month got a proposal from his nephew to set up Botanix Agrotech Pvt. Ltd to run the business.

Adhikary also told ED that his nephew invested 10 lakh in the company and looks after its financial matters while he is paid 50,000 a month. Adhikary said he is also a partner in Adhikary Traders, SKP Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Improline Constructions Pvt. Ltd and HEI Wealth Creation Realtors Pvt. Ltd that his nephew formed.

“…these companies were controlled by Kalyanmoy Bhattacharya and he (Adhikary) has no knowledge about these companies,” said the charge sheet.

Adhikary stated that he is the administrative head of BCM International School while Bhattacharya is its chairman and also a trustee of the Babli Chatterjee Foundation, which is described as a charitable trust, ED said.

ED also found that several properties were purchased in the name of Adhikary, his wife and Botanix Agrotech for the school. The money used in the project, said the charge sheet, was “nothing but the proceeds generated through their nefarious activities of selling jobs to undeserving candidates….”

“The statements of the dummy directors and intermediaries, Manoj Jain and Kamal Singh Bhutoria, clearly establishes that the company M/s Ananta Texfab Pvt Ltd was formed at the instructions of Partha Chatterjee, who utilized the services of the two intermediaries to install dummy directors in the company with the intention of concealing his illegal funds derived out of criminal activities. The intermediaries have clearly stated that they were not in a position to say no to illegal directions from Partha Chatterjee as he was a powerful and influential minister of the West Bengal government,” the chargesheet said. .

“The subsidiary of Ananta Texfab was also formed by the name of M/s Viewmore Highrise Pvt Ltd and it was used for purchasing posh and expensive immovable properties,” the charge sheet said.

How the companies functioned

The ED said that Chatterjee formed numerous shell companies to launder bribes paid by ineligible candidates to get non-teaching and teaching jobs in state-run schools. The charge sheet mentions that unemployed and poor people were made directors of the shell companies against salaries ranging between 5,000 and 15,000. Some of the directors told ED that they were not paid any remuneration at all.

Snehamoy Dutta was director at Echhay Entertainment from 2014 to 2019 and at Symbiosis Merchants from 2011 to 2019, according to records available with the Registrar of Companies. In his statement recorded by ED, Dutta said he was asked by Chatterjee to join the two companies.

According to the charge sheet, Dutta said he had no role in Symbiosis Merchants but signed balance sheets and other documents and followed Chatterjee’s orders “because he was a high profile and powerful man.” He claimed his “signature was forged” to purchase an office at The Chamber, a complex near Acropolis Mall in south Kolkata.

Dutta, as per ED’s chargesheet, was made to sign a letter to the commissioner Income Tax Department’s notice regarding Symbiosis Merchant receiving unexplained cash credit of 2,57,40,000, which was shown as “share premium” in 2012-13.

Accountant’s version

Kishan Kumar Derasari, a chartered accountant and auditor, told ED officials that in November 2020 he was requested by an accountant, Mantu Jha, to take up the audit of Echhay Entertainment, Symbiosis Merchant, and Sentry Engineering.

The charge sheet said Derasari started the audit for 2019-20 and 2020-21. When he was asked by ED about three suspicious transactions in the accounts of Echhay Entertainment, amounting to around 2 crore, Derasari said he had asked Jha to provide the details but it did not reach him till his statement was recorded on September 7 this year.

Thailand connection

Now a former director of Symbiosis Merchants, Snehamoy Dutta, told the ED that in 2014/2015, he accompanied Chatterjee and Arpita Mukherjee to Phuket, Thailand. Chatterjee, who was then a minister, was invited by a Thai organisation but he bore all the expenses, Dutta said.

While looking into allegations that money from the job racket was invested in businesses in Thailand, ED officials grilled Chatterjee but he denied it. He told the officers that he and Mukherjee visited either Singapore or Bangkok long ago and also took a trip to Goa.

Chatterjee claimed that he visits so many places with friends and colleagues that it is difficult for him to remember every detail, an ED official said on condition of anonymity. Chatterjee stated on record that he does not own any business in Thailand but said he was not sure whether Mukherjee owns any property there, says the charge sheet.

Source of cash

Jayanta Biswas, a North 24 Parganas-based dealer of a reputed inverter battery brand, told ED in June this year that his wife Papiya Mukherjee, who owns the dealership, paid 7 lakh to an agent named Chandan Mondal for a primary school teacher’s job.

He said in his statement that Mondal used to live in his village and local people knew him as an influential person. Mondal took the entire amount in cash.

Since chief minister Mamata Banerjee dropped Chatterjee from the cabinet and suspended his party membership days after the arrest, TMC leaders have distanced themselves from their former secretary general.

“It is quite natural that the ED will use every piece of evidence they find. I still cannot understand why Partha walked this path,” TMC Lok Saba member Saugata Roy told HT.

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    Tanmay Chatterjee has spent more than three decades covering regional and national politics, internal security, intelligence, defence and corruption. He also plans and edits special features on subjects ranging from elections to festivals.

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