The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife for questioning in a money laundering case linked to an alleged coal scam, drawing angry reaction from his aunt and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who accused the Narendra Modi government of using its agencies to ”bulldoze and intimidate” its opponents.
Abhishek Banerjee, 33, who represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), has been summoned to appear before the investigating officer of the case in Delhi on September 6, officials said.
His wife Rujira has been sent a similar summon under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) for appearance on September 1.
Rujira had earlier been grilled by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the case.
Some Indian Police Service (IPS) officers and a lawyer linked to Abhishek Banerjee have also been summoned to appear on different dates next month in the same case, the officials said.
This case, registered under criminal sections of the PMLA, was filed by the ED after studying a November, 2020 FIR of the CBI that alleged a multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to Eastern Coalfields Ltd. mines in the state’s Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol.
Local coal operative Anup Majhi alias Lala is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case.
The ED had earlier claimed that Abhishek Banerjee was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade.
He has denied all charges.
Reacting to the summonses, Chief Minister Banerjee accused the Centre of letting loose its agencies on her nephew and claimed some BJP ministers were working ”hand in glove” with coal mafia.
She also accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to ”bulldoze the federal structure” of the country and snatching away the rights of the states.
A combative TMC boss also proposed a meeting of all chief ministers to fight the Centre’s ”authoritarianism”.
”The BJP and the Union government can’t fight us politically. The party was defeated in the assembly polls, and now they are using central agencies against our leaders like Abhishek Banerjee and others. But let me tell them they can’t bulldoze or intimidate us with such threats. We will continue our fight against them,” Mamata Banerjee said.
She was addressing the Foundation Day programme of her party’s students wing.
”If you show us (threaten us with) ED, we will also send proof against BJP leaders to the agency. A section of BJP ministers and leaders is hand in glove with the coal mafia. They even stayed at hotels run by them during elections,” she said.
Noting that natural resources like coal are controlled by the central government, Mamata Banerjee said, ”There’s no use pointing fingers at the Trinamool for corruption in coal. It is under the Centre. What about its ministers? What about BJP leaders who looted the coal belt of Bengal, the Asansol region.” Earlier, while addressing the gathering, Abhishek Banerjee challenged Union Home Minister Amit Shah to fight the TMC politically and save the ruling BJP in Tripura from defeat in the 2023 assembly polls.
”The BJP and the Centre feel they can put pressure on us by using ED and CBI against us, but we will emerge stronger. We are not afraid of BJP. We will fight them politically. I challenge Amit Shah to fight against us politically and save the BJP government in Tripura from certain defeat in the 2023 assembly polls,” he said.
The Enforcement Directorate has made at least two arrests in the money laundering case. One of them is Vikas Mishra, the brother of TMC youth wing leader Vinay Mishra. Vinay Mishra is stated to have left the country sometime back and probably has also renounced his Indian citizenship.
The second person arrested by the ED in the case early this year is former Inspector in-charge of Bankura police station Ashok Kumar Mishra.
The ED had earlier claimed that the Mishra brothers received ”proceeds of crime worth Rs 730 crore on behalf of some influential persons and for themselves” in this case involving an estimated amount of Rs 1,352 crore.
A ”deep system” of political patronage and a ”well-oiled” machinery was used to brazenly carry out certain unlawful coal mining in West Bengal, the ED has claimed before a court while seeking the remand of Inspector Mishra in April.
A charge sheet was also filed by the ED in May this year.
Quoting the recorded statement of an unidentified ”close associate” of Majhi, the ED had earlier alleged that prime suspect Majhi had been running his ”illegal coal mining business smoothly by managing senior functionaries of political party of West Bengal though Inspector Mishra.” The statement of this unidentified ”witness” furnished by the ED in the remand note stated that ”it is known fact that Vinay Mishra collected money from illegal coal mining of Majhi and his associates for his closely associated political boss in present ruling party; that Vinay Mishra is youth leader of TMC and he is very close to Abhishek Banerjee and that he (Vinay Mishra) is the eyes and ears of Abhishek Banerjee.” The agency had claimed that documents seized by it show that ”Majhi assisted in transferring substantial funds derived from the proceeds of crime to Shri Abhishek Banerjee’s close relatives (wife and sister-in-law) at London and Thailand.” PTI