Bengal cooperative bank facing CBI probe in cattle case faced insolvency in 2014
The Birbhum District Central Cooperative Bank Ltd. reopened after 17 months in October 2015 following efforts by the state government but got back its licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September 2016
The West Bengal cooperative bank, now under the scanner of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the cattle smuggling case was shut down in 2014 because of insolvency, bank officials and a section of customers told Hindustan Times on Friday.
The Birbhum District Central Cooperative Bank Ltd. reopened after 17 months in October 2015 following efforts by the state government but got back its licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September 2016, bank officials said.
The bank, which was set up in 1962 with four branches, currently has 15 in Birbhum. It provides loans mainly to farmers and self-help groups.
CBI went through documents at the bank, having its headquarters at Siuri town, on Thursday and found 177 suspicious accounts through which around ₹10 crore were suspected to have been siphoned in the last few years following which the probe agency froze 54 accounts.
Siuri branch manager Abhijit Samanta and former manager Indra Kumar Gurung were also interrogated by the CBI on Friday.
Bank officials, who did not want to be identified, said according to available audit reports, the bank had a working capital of ₹365 crore and deposits of ₹245 crore till March 2020. The bank made a profit of ₹11.14 crore in 2020 and its capital adequacy ratio (CAR) stood at 12.63% on March 31, 2020.
“In 2014, when the bank shut down, the CAR stood at minus 49%,” one of the officials said.
CBI officials said they have sought help from banking experts to examine the records.
The chairman of the bank’s board of directors is Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Kaliprasad Ghosh. Till September last year, the post was held by TMC leader Nurul Islam.
Islam, Siuri residents said, is known to be close to TMC’s Birbhum district unit president Anubrata Mondal, the prime suspect in the cattle smuggling case.
Arrested by the CBI on August 11 last year, Mondal is now in judicial custody. His last bail prayer was rejected by the Asansol court on Wednesday.
“Members of the board are never involved in operations of the bank. I have asked for a report from the Siuri branch,” Nurul Islam said.
“I took over as the board chairman very recently. I have nothing to say,” said Ghosh.
Since many of the accountholders are farmers, CBI officials suspect they were made to sign account opening forms and did not know how and by whom the accounts were being used.
“I am illiterate and cannot even sign my name,” Sundari Basaki, whose name and address appeared in one of the 177 suspicious accounts, told local media persons.
Mondal was named in the CBI’s fourth chargesheet filed at the Asansol court on October 7 last year.
Mondal’s former bodyguard, Sehgal Hossain, was arrested by CBI on June 10 and named in the third chargesheet filed on August 8, 2022.
CBI officials have so far traced a large number of bank accounts and properties belonging to Mondal, his daughter, Sukanya, and Hossain.
The agency suspects that accounts in the cooperative bank were used to siphon proceeds from the cattle smuggling operation across the India-Bangladesh border.
In October, the CBI asked three banks in Bolpur town, where Mondal lives, to provide details of transactions made by him and his relatives and associates. Notices were also sent to the Punjab National Bank (PNB), State Bank of India (SBI) and Axis Bank where Mondal, Sukanya, and the other suspects have accounts.
On September 28 last year, a large number of documents kept in the record room of the Bolpur branch of Axis Bank were destroyed in a fire that was suspected to have been caused by an electrical short circuit.
In its chargesheet filed against Mondal, the CBI said that he is suspected to be linked to 168 land and property deeds executed in or after 2014. At least two dozen of these belong to Mondal, suspects the federal agency, while the remaining 144 registration papers bear the names of his relatives, aides and their kin.
It is suspected that proceeds from cattle smuggling were used to buy these properties.