ED trying to turn Partha Chatterjee’s aide Arpita against him in court: Official
An ED official said the agency cannot rule out the possibility of Arpita Mukherjee turning hostile in the case and they have provided security to her because of possible threats to her life
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which filed its first charge sheet on Monday in West Bengal’s school recruitment case, will try to convince former minister and suspended Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee’s aide Arpita Mukherjee to testify against him, an official of the federal agency said on condition of anonymity.
The official said she initially adopted a non-cooperative approach when she was arrested on July 23 but after ED seized a mountain of cash and jewellery for the second time from a Kolkata flat in her name, she started to open up. Six shell companies listed in her name were also run by the minister, she said in her statement, the official added.
ED, however, cannot rule out the possibility of her turning hostile in the case and the agency has provided security to her because of possible threats to her life, the official said.
ED’s lawyer Phiroze Edulji said Chatterjee, Mukherjee and the six companies have all been charged under Sections 3, 4 and 70 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The companies are: Echhay Entertainment Pvt Ltd, Ananta Texfab Pvt Ltd, Symbiosis Merchant Pvt Ltd, Sentry Engineering Pvt Ltd, Viewmore Highrise Pvt Ltd and Apa Utility Service.
The charge sheet filed at Kolkata’s Bankshall court said that so far ED has traced cash, jewellery and immovable property worth ₹103.10 crore linked to the duo.
The document mentioned the details of 35 bank accounts, 40 immovable properties, 31 life insurance policies and 201 shell companies. The properties have been attached by ED.
The annual premium for these life insurance policies, amounting to around ₹1.5 crore, were paid by Chatterjee, ED found after his phone was examined at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Hyderabad, said the charge sheet. The policies were in Mukherjee’s name and Chatterjee was mentioned as the nominee.
During interrogation, Chatterjee described Mukherjee as a casual acquaintance while the latter claimed to be a middle-class woman with no access to such wealth, the charge sheet added.
Chatterjee formed numerous shell companies to launder bribes paid by ineligible candidates to get non-teaching and teaching jobs in state-run schools during his tenure as education minister between 2014 and 2021, the charge sheet said. It mentioned that unemployed and poor people were made directors of the shell companies against salaries ranging between ₹5,000 and 10,000.
In a related development, Kolkata’s Alipore court on Tuesday remanded vice-chancellor of North Bengal University, Subiresh Bhattacharya, in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) till September 26 in the bribe-for-job scam.
Bhattacharya’s arrest on Monday has created a stir in Bengal since no vice-chancellor was ever arrested in the state on corruption charges.
While serving as chairman of the West Bengal School Service Commission, Bhattacharya tampered with the scores of 300 candidates who paid bribe after failing the qualifying examinations, lawyers representing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told the court citing documents seized from one of the residences of the accused.
The court was told that Bhattacharya did not cooperate with CBI officers who questioned him several times in recent months. It was also alleged that there were discrepancies in his statements.
Senior lawyer Tamal Mukherjee, who defended Bhattacharya, told the court that his client was being made a scapegoat to shield the main culprits.
“The allegations are baseless. Bhattacharya never avoided any interrogation. He responded to each and every summon notice,” Mukherjee said.
In May, Calcutta high court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay ordered CBI to probe the illegal appointment of non-teaching staff (Group C and D) and teaching staff by the West Bengal Central School Service Commission and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
Before ordering the CBI probe, the high court entrusted retired judge Ranjit Kumar Bag with an inquiry since a few hundred job seekers alleged in their petitions that they were not recruited despite passing the qualifying examinations. The inquiry committee held 11 senior government officials responsible for the irregularities and recommended police inquiry against six of them.
Chatterjee claimed during interrogation by ED and CBI that he left the recruitment process to a high-powered advisory committee which is now under scanner.
The committee’s chief adviser, Shanti Prasad Sinha and Ashok Saha, a committee member, were arrested earlier by CBI. Two alleged middlemen, Prasanna Kumar Roy and Pradip Singha, were also arrested. CBI arrested former president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay, on September 15. Gangopadhyay served as president of the board for 10 years before retiring around two months ago.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers held an agitation outside the North Bengal University campus on Tuesday alleging that Bhattacharya’s arrest has tarnished the image of the institution.