Teacher recruitment case: ED seizes Partha, aide’s assets worth ₹103 crore
Partha Chatterjee was arrested on July 23 after 27 hours of interrogation in connection with alleged irregularities in recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in government schools, in which the ED has thus far recovered cash worth over ₹50 crore. He was the state education minister from 2014 to 2021 when the alleged irregularities took place.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday filed its first charge sheet against former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee and his aide, Arpita Mukherjee, in connection with an alleged recruitment scam involving the School Service Commission (SSC) and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE), officials said.
In its 470-page charge sheet filed at Kolkata’s Bankshall court, the federal agency has claimed to have traced cash, jewellery and immovable property worth ₹103.10 crore linked to the duo. The charge sheet was accompanied by documents running into 14,000 pages.
The documents mention details of 35 bank accounts, 40 immovable properties, 31 life insurance policies and 201 shell companies that are under ED scanner, the officials cited above said. All documents pertaining to the investigation were submitted to the court in four steel trunks that were sealed, they added.
Chatterjee was arrested on July 23 after 27 hours of interrogation in connection with alleged irregularities in recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in government schools, in which the ED has thus far recovered cash worth over ₹50 crore. He was the state education minister from 2014 to 2021 when the alleged irregularities took place.
Mukherjee, from whose flat ₹21.9 crore in cash was seized during a raid on the same day, was also arrested as a prime suspect.
While Chatterjee claimed that he has no source of income, Mukherjee said she was not aware of the cash recovered during the course of the probe from her apartments at a south Kolkata condominium and a high-rise at Belgharia in north Kolkata.
According to the ED, Chatterjee formed numerous shell companies to launder bribes paid by ineligible candidates to get jobs in state-run schools during his tenure. Some unemployed and poor people were made directors of the shell companies for salaries ranging between ₹5,000 and 10,000, the charge sheet said.
“Eight people, including Chatterjee and Mukherjee, have been named in the charge-sheet which was filed on the 58th day since their arrest. Statements of 43 witnesses have been submitted to the court. The documents run into 14,000 pages,” said one of the lawyers representing the ED, on condition of anonymity.
In a statement on Monday, the probe agency said it has provisionally attached properties worth ₹48.22 crore, consisting of 40 immovable properties valued at ₹40.33 crore and 35 bank accounts having a balance of ₹7.89 crore. “The attached properties include flats, a farmhouse, prime land in the city of Kolkata and bank balance,” the statement said.
The ED has booked Chatterjee and other accused under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was directed by Calcutta high court in May to probe the recruitment scandal, on Monday arrested former West Bengal School Service Commission chairman Subiresh Bhattacharya in the case.
Bhattacharya is currently serving as vice-chancellor of North Bengal University and was interrogated by the CBI several times in recent months. One of his residences in Kolkata was sealed on August 24.
“Bhattacharya was not cooperating with our officers. There were discrepancies in his statements,” a CBI official said on condition of anonymity.
Following Chatterjee’s arrest, chief minister Mamata Banerjee stripped him of his portfolios (commerce, industry and public enterprises, information technology and parliamentary affairs) and his positions (state secretary general and national vice-president) in the Trinamool Congress. The party also denied any links with Mukherjee and the seized cash.
Opposition parties attacked the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) over ED’s charge sheet and Bhattacharya’s arrest.
“More arrests will be made soon and the investigation will eventually reveal the involvement of top TMC leaders,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said.
Hitting back, TMC Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen said: “We will not comment on a sub-judice matter. However, we would surely want to know whether the BJP is running the CBI. How can Dilip Ghosh predict who is going to be arrested and when?”
The government officials arrested by CBI and ED were mere pawns, senior lawyer and CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who represented the job seekers in court, said. “The real beneficiary was the chief minister,” he added.
Bhattacharya should stop defaming the chief minister, Sen said. “He should concentrate on his own party which is left with no legislator in the state,” he added.
While Chatterjee is currently lodged in CBI custody, Mukherjee is lodged in Alipore correctional home for women.