Shell companies, movie projects: Common factors in job, ration scams in Bengal | Kolkata - Hindustan Times

Shell companies, movie projects: Common factors in job, ration scams in Bengal

Oct 29, 2023 10:02 PM IST

Enforcement Directorate officials have found that investments in movies and use of numerous shell companies to siphon money figure among the common factors in the two cases

Arpita Mukherjee, one of the prime accused in the bribe-for-job scam in the West Bengal education department and described by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in its charge sheet as a “close aide” of former education minister Partha Chatterjee, played a leading role 10 years ago in a movie produced by businessman Bakibur Rahaman who was arrested by ED on October 14 in the state food department scam, officials of the federal agency have found during investigation.

Bengal minister Jyotipriya Mallick was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on October 27 in connection with the ration scam. (PTI)
Bengal minister Jyotipriya Mallick was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on October 27 in connection with the ration scam. (PTI)

Mukherjee and Chatterjee were arrested in July 2022.

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Bengal forest minister Jyotipriya Mallick, who has been accused by ED of aiding Rahaman when he was the food minister and profiting from the ration scam, was arrested on October 27.

“Released in 2014 and directed by a food department officer, the movie, ‘Mangrove,’ was a flop,” a director from Tollygunge, Kolkata’s movie hub, said on condition of anonymity.

“The posters even featured Rakhi Sawant from Mumbai. Few seem to remember the movie,” the director added.

Investments in movies and use of numerous shell companies to siphon money figure among the common factors in the two cases, ED officials have found.

The state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that another common factor in the two scams is Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Paresh Adhikari, a former Forward Bloc minister who joined the ruling party in 2016.

Adhikari, a former MLA from Cooch Behar, served as the Left Front government’s food minister from 2006 to 2011. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee made him the state’s junior education minister for a year in 2021.

In May, 2022, the Calcutta high court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the appointment of non-teaching staff (Group C and D) between 2014 and 2021. The appointees allegedly paid bribes in the range of 5 lakh to 15 lakh to get jobs after failing the selection tests. ED started a parallel probe.

A month later, Babita Sarkar, a job scam victim, moved the high court alleging that Adhikari’s daughter, Ankita, was appointed as teacher at a school in Cooch Behar district in 2018 although she did not pass the 2016 eligibility test.

The court terminated Ankita Adhikari’s service. The former minister and his daughter were booked by CBI under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act.

Sukanta Majumdar, BJP state president, alleged on Sunday that the scam in the food department started during the Left Front era when Adhikari was the food minister.

“Pilferage of food grains from stocks meant for the public distribution system started during the Left Front era. Paresh Adhikari was the minister at that time. The operations expanded after TMC came to power. The probe will expose everything,” Majumdar said.

Adhikari, whose 30-year-old son died of a sudden heart attack on Friday, could not be contacted.

Naren Chatterjee, national chairman of the Forward Bloc, told HT that his party cannot be held responsible for what is suspected to have happened in a government department.

“Our veteran Bengal unit secretary Ashok Ghosh was alive and holding office when Adhikari was the food minister. Forward Bloc had several ministers in the Left Front government but Ghosh could not be aware of what was going on inside each of those departments,” Chatterjee said.

TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh did not comment on Adhikari but admitted that scams in the food department started during Left Front regime.

“Mamata Banerjee wanted to end that corruption when she became chief minister. She launched the free rationing system to help the poor,” Ghosh said.

Hours after Mallick’s arrest, ED told a Kolkata court on Friday that a huge scam took place in the public distribution system during his 10-year tenure as food minister.

“We saw Rahaman visiting the food minister several times at the latter’s office,” Mallick’s personal assistant, Amit Dey, told the media on Saturday after he was questioned by ED.

“At least 10 shell companies are under scanner till now. Money from these companies went to bank accounts of Mallick’s family members and associates. Three companies, that were launched in 2009 (during the Left Front era) and shut down in 2019, are also under scanner. The same pattern was seen in the bribe-for-job scam,” an ED official said on condition of anonymity.

Investments made in movies and entertainment are also being probed in both cases because a lot of payments in these industries are still made in cash.

At least three job scam suspects arrested ED and CBI since July last funded Bengali movies and music videos.

Two of them, Kuntal Ghosh and Shahid Imam, were TMC leaders.

Arrested by ED in January this year, Ghosh owns a production house. Imam, who was arrested in February, produced several movies in the last seven years and also acted in some.

The third accused, Arpita Mukherjee, made headlines last year when ED seized more than 50 crore in cash, foreign currency, jewelley and gold biscuits weighing a few kilos and numerous property-related documents from the luxurious apartments she used in a posh south Kolkata residential complex.

Inquiries revealed that Mukherjee first tried her luck in the modelling industry in 2004. She landed some small roles in a television serial followed by Bengali, Odiya and Tamil movies before producing some projects.

Documents seized from her homes revealed that the properties were mostly registered in the names of two companies. Of these, Sentry Engineering Private Ltd was registered in 2001, ten years before the TMC came to power. The other one, Echhay Entertainment Private Ltd, was registered in 2014.

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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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