The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned senior Trinamool Congress leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira for questioning in connection with a case of money laundering associated with alleged pilferage of coal from Eastern Coalfield Limited mines.
Abhishek, an MP from Diamond Harbour, has been asked to appear before the Investigating Officer on September 6 while Rujira has been told to come on September 1. Rujira had been questioned by the CBI earlier in the case, filed last year. The ED case is based on the CBI FIR.
Addressing TMC workers during the foundation day of its youth wing, Mamata Banerjee accused the BJP-led government at the Centre of letting loose Central agencies on Abhishek, while claiming that some BJP ministers were hand in glove with the coal mafia. “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… Coal is under the CISF, the ministry is with the Centre, not the state. What were they doing? I know that dozens of Central ministers have robbed Asansol. When they came for campaigning in Asansol, they stayed in hotels owned by the coal mafia. Should I bring out the list?” the West Bengal CM said, adding that the TMC wouldn’t be intimidated by such actions by the Centre.
Speaking at the same event, Abhishek said he was not frightened of ED summons. “Threatening us with the CBI and ED is not going to stop us,” he said.
In April, the ED had told a special court that Rujira and her sister had been paid “substantial amount” in London and Thailand by key accused in the case. It had made the claim while seeking further custody of Ashok Kumar Mishra, the inspector in-charge of Bankura Police Station in Purulia district and reportedly a close associate of alleged kingpin Anup Majee alias Lala.
The ED had claimed that during questioning, Mishra had told officials that the payment was made to Rujira and her sister at the behest of TMC youth leader Vinay Mishra, and the funds were sourced from Majee.
“He admitted that he arranged to transfer around (Rs) 1-1.5 crore to Delhi as asked by Vinay Mishra. This amount was arranged from Anup Majee through Niraj Singh… he stated that Vinay Mishra was the secretary of TMC and was very close to Member of Parliament Shri Abhishek Banerjee… and knowing his clout in the party, he (Ashok) has to obey him (Vinay) or his (Ashok) career will be finished; that he facilitated in transferring funds through non-banking channel from India to London for a close relative of Shri Abhishek Banerjee; … that the subject transaction of Thailand was related to Rujira Banerjee,” the ED submission had said.
It had also claimed that Niraj Singh, Majee’s accountant, “assisted in transferring substantial funds… to Shri Abhishek Banerjee’s close relative (Sister in Law & Wife) at London & Thailand”.
The ED had added that records seized from Niraj Singh and digital evidence showed that Mishra received Rs 168 crore as proceeds of crime through illegal coal mining and pilferage in just about 109 days in 2020, and that in the past two years, Majee had generated Rs 1,352 crore through illegal coal mining.
Citing the statement of a “close confidante” of Majee, the ED had said that he conducted his illegal mining business “smoothly by managing senior functionaries of political party of West Bengal through Ashok Kumar Mishra”, and that “major fund is distributed to manage the political stalwarts of the ruling party”.
On November 27 last year, the CBI’s Kolkata Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) had first registered a case of corruption and criminal breach of trust with regard to illegal mining and pilferage of coal from leasehold area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd in certain parts of West Bengal. ECL is a wholly owned subsidiary of PSU Coal India Ltd.
In her reaction to the ED move, Mamata Banerjee also accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to “bulldoze the federal structure” and snatching away rights of states, adding that allocation of rights for natural resources like coal comes under the purview of the Central government. She proposed a meeting of all CMs to fight against “the Centre’s authoritarianism”.