The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) claims it has found at least five calls between former Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar and an employee of Saradha group who directly reported to the chit fund scam’s mastermind Sudipta Sen. A top CBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the agency’s investigators are inching closer to establishing that the officer was involved in tampering with evidence in the case.
The calls are from the period when Kumar was Bidhan Nagar commissioner of police and the multi-crore ponzi scam broke out in 2012-13. The CBI officer, however, did not disclose whether these calls were exchanged when he was a commissioner or after he became head of the special investigation team (SIT) looking into the scam.
The scam and Kumar’s alleged involvement in it have become a hot-button political issue, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying several leaders of the Trinamool Congress were involved in it (prompting Kumar’s alleged interference) and the latter claiming that the BJP is using the central investigation agency to settle political scores. Mukul Roy, once TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s confidant, was grilled regarding his involvement in the case, but he has since shifted loyalties and is now a member of the BJP. In recent months, CBI’s efforts to question Kumar have been seen by Banerjee and the TMC as part of the BJP’s grand plan for the state. The party and the CM are also not pleased by the Election Commission’s decision to transfer Kumar to the Ministry of Home Affairs following violence during a rally by BJP president Amit Shah earlier this week and claim that the poll body is doing the government’s bidding.
Prompted by the Supreme Court, telcos Vodafone and Airtel recently shared with CBI detailed CDRs (call detail records) of five numbers belonging to Sudipta Sen (three) and close aide Debjani Mukherjee (two). Both the West Bengal police and the telcos were not cooperating with it, the agency said in court, and had shared only “limited CDRs”, prompting the court’s order.
On Friday, the Supreme Court said Kumar’s protection from arrest would expire in seven days, that is May 24, and the agency has already started discussing when to arrest him as his custodial interrogation will open a can of worms, the top CBI officer said. He added that Kumar’s arrest is “imminent”.
“His custodial interrogation is necessary to find who he was protecting and his links with the scam accused. During his SC-ordered questioning in Shillong in February, he was not cooperative,” said the CBI officer.
Another CBI officer said the agency’s evidence against the West Bengal officer is adequate to not just arrest him, but also to convict him.
A CBI spokesperson declined to comment.
The anti-corruption probe agency informed the apex court, which had ordered the probe into the Saradha scam, earlier this year that Kumar “destroyed and tampered” the material evidence in the form of CDRs of the prime accused and potential accused.
Apart from Kumar, the CBI officer added, six more West Bengal police officers are under the scanner. One of these officers has earlier worked in CBI and he used to guide West Bengal police on the possible next steps of the agency investigators citing his experience.
CBI began investigating the Saradha chit fund scam in 2014. At least 1.7 million depositors were duped to the extent of ~3,500 crores in the scam.
In April 2013, Saradha founder Sudipta Sen wrote an 18-page confessional letter to CBI, in which he admitted that he had paid large sums of money to several politicians, businessmen, journalists and others.
The company’s modus operandi was to lure investors to deposit money in its schemes with glossy brochures and the promise of abnormally high returns.
So far, properties worth around ~1,000 crores has been attached by the Enforcement Directorate in West Bengal, Assam, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The attached assets include flats, bungalows, bank deposits, land, resorts, a school, a dairy farm, and vehicles.