New Delhi: Two West Bengal ministers, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLA and a former party leader were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Narada sting case on Monday morning.
Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee were all state ministers when they were shown accepting money in the Narada sting operation. The tapes were released ahead of the 2016 state assembly polls and the Calcutta high court ordered a CBI probe in March 2017.
While Hakim and Mukherjee were sworn into Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet after her party retained power in the recently concluded elections, Mitra is a TMC MLA. Chatterjee, a former Kolkata mayor, joined the BJP after the 2019 general elections but quit the saffron party when he was denied a ticket in the assembly elections.
The development comes soon after West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar approved the CBI’s request to prosecute the leaders. However, the Central probe agency did not seek permission to prosecute TMC leaders who were allegedly involved in the scam and have since joined the BJP.
CBI sources told the Indian Express that a chargesheet will be filed in the case against the four politicians and they will seek custody to question them. IPS officer S.M.H. Meerza is the fifth accused in the case.
According to news agency PTI, a CBI team along with Central forces reached Hakim’s Chetla residence and took him to the probe agency’s office. Mitra and Chatterjee were also brought to Nizam Palace as part of the investigation.
“The CBI has arrested me in the Narada case. We will settle this matter in court,” Hakim, the state’s transport and housing minister, claimed.
Soon after the arrests were made, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reached the agency’s Nizam Palace office in Kolkata demanding their release, reminiscent of her protest against the CBI’s move to question the then Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in 2019.
CBI sources told PTI that Banerjee’s actions could be interpreted as interference.
“The CBI has today arrested four then ministers, government of West Bengal in a case related to the Narada sting operation… it was alleged that then public servants were caught on camera while receiving illegal gratification from the sting operator,” CBI spokesperson R.C. Joshi said in Delhi.
Reacting to the development, TMC spokesman Kunal Ghosh claimed that the CBI action was a vengeful act and a fallout of the BJP’s loss in the West Bengal assembly elections. “The BJP is still not able to accept defeat in the polls after having made an all-out attempt to win… This is a reprehensible act.
“When the state is fighting the Covid situation, they are trying to create disturbances in such a manner,” he told PTI.
The sting operation was conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada TV news channel in 2014, in which purported TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours.
The agency has alleged that Hakim was seen to have agreed to accept a bribe of Rs 5 lakh from the sting operator while Mitra and Mukherjee were caught on camera receiving Rs 5 lakh each. Chatterjee was seen receiving Rs 4 lakh from the sting operator, it added. Meerza was also caught on camera receiving Rs 5 lakh from the operator.
(With PTI inputs)