KOLKATA: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s confrontation with the Centre escalated on Tuesday as CBI arrested Trinamool Congress’s leader in Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay, in connection with the Rs 17,000-crore Rose Valley Ponzi scam that came to light in 2013. Bandopadhyay’s arrest — the biggest in connection with the Rose Valley scam — came three days after CBI took actor-turned Trinamool MP Tapas Pal into custody following his arrest on Friday.
Street fights erupted on Tuesday between Trinamool and BJP members after the former besieged the state BJP headquarters in Kolkata. With Mamata, who has been in the forefront of the opposition’s campaign against demonetisation, claiming that CBI action against her colleagues was being driven by the Modi government’s “vendetta”, Trinamool leaders staged adharna in front of CBI’s Salt Lake office from where Bandopadhyay had been detained before being flown to Bhubaneswar later in the night.
“Sudip Bandopadhyay is a very senior leader. He is the Trinamool Parliamentary Party leader. I couldn’t think that they would arrest Sudipda. From what I gather from my sources in the Enforcement Directorate and CBI, instructions are coming from the top to go for our ministers and MPs — Abhishek Banerjee, Firhad Hakim (Bobby), Sovan Chatterjee, Subhendu Adhikari, Moloy Ghatak…They are also after my family members. I dare them to arrest all of us. I know why they are doing this. They had put pressure on me to keep silent. But you know me, I didn’t buckle under pressure. I am committed to the people’s cause, come what may,” the Trinamool chief said.
Soon after, she called all party MPs to Trinamool Bhavan and chalked out a slew of protest programmes in 10 states, beginning with Kolkata and New Delhi from Wednesday.
BJP’s Siddharth Nath Singh rubbished TMC’s “political conspiracy” theory. “CBI is investigating the Ponzi scam under the directives of the Supreme Court. It is a legal process. Chit fund companies have looted people in Bengal and Trinamool leaders have a hand in such companies,” Singh said.
The arrest of Sudip Bandopadhyay, Trinamool Congress’s member in Lok Sabha, had appeared to be on the cards, especially after the recent arrest of his colleague Tapas Pal. According to CBI sources, Bandopadhyay was taken into custody after he parried questions put to him. Sources said the Trinamool MP kept silent when asked why he attended a delegate meeting of the Rose Valley Group at Netaji Indoor Stadium when, as member of the parliamentary standing committee on finance, he was aware of the alleged irregularities involving the promoters of Rose Valley.
The senior Trinamool MP had no answer when CBI officers asked him about the sponsors of his foreign tours or who gifted him a sedan car. The investigators claim that Rose Valley sponsored his tours to a South Asian country, a kingdom in the Middle East, and to the United States. The husband of a Kolkata film star had allegedly accompanied the Trinamool Congress leader.
Investigators suspect that Bandopadhyay was in company with those who helped Rose Valley boss Gautam Kundu launder money overseas. CBI is also tracking the alleged role of Bandopadhyay in helping the Ponzi group buy a central Kolkata hotel. According to sources, the hotel was up for sale at Rs 60 crore when Kundu suddenly started bidding for the hotel. Finally, the hotel was handed over to Kundu for a whopping Rs 122 crore. Sources said one part of the payment was returned to Kundu at a hotel in Kathmandu.
While leaving the state secretariat at Nabanna on Tuesday evening, Mamata said: “It isn’t a big deal if I am to believe for argument’s sake that Sudip took Rs 2-3 lakh for the elections. I am not sure about it. But going by the same argument, (PM Narendra) Modi should be arrested. From where did Modi get the money to wear a suit worth crores? BJP leaders take the help of Adani Group for bringing funds from abroad. They are the mother of all thieves.”