NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s probe into an alleged coal pilferage case has come knocking on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee‘s doors with the agency now examining her family members in the case.
The CBI questioned Rujira Banerjee, niece-in-law of Mamata Banerjee at her South Kolkata home for an hour on Tuesday.
Rujira’s husband Abhishek Banerjee is Mamata’s nephew and a Trinamool Congress MP, making her the most high-profile person who has been examined in the case till now.
On February 21, the CBI had examined Rujira’s sister Menaka Gambhir at her home for three hours.
The developments come months ahead of the assembly elections in the state with TMC alleging it to be a political vendetta.
What is the coal theft case
On November 27, 2020, the CBI registered a case regarding the illegal coal-mining in Bengal, based on “source information”.
The CBI has mentioned six people in the case. The prime suspect is Anup Maji alias Lala. Others include five officials of a nationalised mining company. Several other officials of a coal company, the CISF, the Railways and other departments are under CBI’s suspicion.
As per sources, Lala, the alleged kingpin of the scam, is involved in illegal mining and theft of coal from leasehold mines of ECL in Kunustoria and Kajora areas.
Lala is said to be absconding.
Why is Rujira and Menaka being investigated
As per sources, the agency sought the examination of Rujira Banerjee to ascertain the details of her bank transactions, suspecting a connection to the proceeds of the illegal coal excavation money.
CBI sources suggested that they wanted to question Rujira on certain foreign remittances made in some Thailand accounts.
CBI officers have unofficially said they wanted to question Menaka Gambhir on whether she was aware of a businessman now based in the UAE. This businessman, the agency suspects, has received a portion of the money from the coal mining scam.
The CBI also suspects that this businessman, who was under their radar in earlier probes, had helped the masterminds of the coal scam to stash the money overseas through a web of companies. The complex chain, the CBI believes, extends beyond the UAE to several counties in south-east Asia, Germany and the UK.
Several locations raided since November last year
A day after registering the case, the CBI on November 28 carried out a massive search operation in a number of locations across four states — West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
As many as 45 locations were raided by the CBI on November 28 and several other locations were searched over the last few months.
These locations also included the residence of Vinay Mishra, a Yuva Trinamool Congress leader. Mishra is said to be absconding.
TMC fights back
The TMC has labelled examination of Mamata Banerjee’s family members in the case as vendetta politics by the BJP, its political rival in the state.
On February 2, Trinamool-turned-BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari had first levelled allegations against “Madam Naroola”, referring to “Thailand accounts”.
Two days later, Abhishek responded to the allegations saying BJP was targeting his wife because they are “unable to fight me…. Contrary to what is being said, my wife has a bank account in Kolkata.”
The Bengal government also raised objections over CBI, a central agency, undertaking an investigation in the state without the state government’s consent.
However, on February 12, the Calcutta high court, in an interim order, had allowed the CBI to probe the coal scam case anywhere in Bengal without requiring the state government’s consent.
The HC will hear the case again on April 27 to decide whether the CBI can probe cases in Bengal even after the state had withdrawn its “general consent” in 2018.
(With inputs from PTI)