CBI searches residences of West Bengal justice minister in coal theft scam

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Research is being conducted at six locations, five in Kolkata and one in Asansol.

Research is being conducted at six locations, five in Kolkata and one in Asansol.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted raids on half a dozen properties and the residence of West Bengal Justice Minister Moloy Ghatak on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the robbery scam of coal. Teams of CBI officials conducted searches at the minister’s residence in Asansol in the Paschim Bardhaman district of the state, and in Kolkata at Alipore, Lake Gardens and near Raj Bhavan. According to the investigative agency, the search was carried out after the minister did not appear before the agency despite being summoned several times.

“I was called as a witness and cooperated with the investigation,” Ghatak told reporters later that evening. The minister said his phone was seized by officials and investigators found ₹14,000 at his home, which they did not put on the seizure list. Responding to questions from journalists about the reasons for his summons, the minister said: “the only attempt is to slander”. Mr Ghatak also added that as the state’s justice minister, there were a number of classified documents at his residence that the CBI reviewed.

An MP for Asansol Uttar, Mr. Ghatak is an influential leader of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Central Investigative Agencies opened an investigation into the coal theft scam in November 2020. The scam involves fraudulently diverting coal from the coal reserve of leasehold areas under the rule of Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL ), as well as stock of coal parked in railway sidings for sale and supply. The ECL coal mines from where the coal was allegedly stolen are located in Kunustoria and Kajora areas in Asansol and surrounding areas. The CBI had in July 2022 filed an indictment against 41 people involved in the scam, including ECL officials and a former TMC youth leader, Vinay Mishra. Mr Mishra is on the run and the agencies have issued a lookout for him.

Along with the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also investigating the anthrax scam. ED and CBI also questioned TMC General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee about the scam. On September 2, 2022, the ED had questioned Mr Banerjee for over six hours in connection with the scam in Kolkata. The TMC leadership targeted Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday and accused him of “spreading propaganda against those who oppose his inept government”.

“Meet #IndiasBiggestPappuAmitShah! Armed with his trusted Godi Media and the puppets of @dir_ed and CBI, he is jubilant. Minister of Interior with no concern for citizens or the Nation, he spends his days spreading propaganda against those who stand against his incompetent government,” the TMC tweeted from its official handle. Mr Banerjee and the TMC launched a new attack on the Home Secretary after September 2.

Anubrata’s Bail Rejected

In a separate development, a court in Asansol has rejected TMC leader Anubrata Mondal’s bail request in connection with the cross-border cattle smuggling scam. Mr. Mondal, the chairman of the TMC district of Birbhum, was remanded to 14 days in police custody. The TMC leader was arrested by the CBI on August 11 in connection with the cross-border cattle smuggling scam.

Prior to Mr Mondal’s arrest, the ED arrested former minister Partha Chatterjee and his aide Arpita Mukherjee in the School Services Commission recruitment scam. A cash value of ₹50 crore was seized from the properties of the former assistant minister.

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