Teachers' job scam: WB minister, aide in ED custody

The ED had planned to fly Mr Chatterjee to Bhubaneswar for further interrogation

Kolkata: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested heavyweight West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee and his close friend Arpita Mukherjee from their respective residences in south Kolkata on Saturday in the School Service Commission (SSC) jobs scam. After model-turned small-time actor Ms Mukherjee, name of Monalisa Das, a professor of Bengali at Kazi Nazrul University at Asansol in Burdwan West, has come on ED’s radar because of her suspicious link with Mr Chatterjee.

Both Mr Chatterjee and Ms Mukherjee were earlier detained and grilled in the case by the Central agency during a raid and search at their respective homes since Friday morning. Mr Chatterjee is the state commerce and industries minister. He also holds the parliamentary affairs and information technology portfolios in chief minister Mamata Banerjee's Cabinet.

Mr Chatterjee is also a close aide of the Trinamul Congress supremo and the party's secretary general, one of the senior-rank members of the party responsible for disciplinary matters in the organisation.

Early on Saturday, Mr Chatterjee was booked at his Naktala residence for not cooperating during a 27-hour-long questioning by the ED in its money laundering probe into the allotment of government primary school teachers' jobs in exchange for a hefty amount of cash from the candidates that took place during his tenure as the state education minister.

According to sources, Mr Chatterjee was evasive about the seizure of Rs 21.20 crore in cash, Rs 79 lakh of jewellery, mostly in gold and foreign currencies worth Rs 54 lakhs from Ms Mukherjee's flat at an upscale housing apartment in Tollygunge. The ED later transported the alleged "ill-gotten wealth", suspected to be part of the scam, in a truck carrying 40 steel trunks.

The central agency also found the school education department's envelopes used for bringing the cash to Ms Mukherjee's flat, as well as evidence of Mr Chatterjee's regular conversations with her and his visits to her flat.

Caught on the back foot, the Trinamul Congress quickly distanced itself from the controversy. Trinamul Congress state general secretary Kunal Ghosh claimed, "Our party is not involved in the case anyway because neither the wealth nor its owner and address of recovery belongs to our party. Our party and government will take steps against Mr Chatterjee only if and when he is found guilty by the judiciary."

Mr Chatterjee, when asked about any talks between him and the CM, said hopelessly, "I tried to contact her but failed." He was later produced before the chief metropolitan magistrate of the Bankshall Court after a medical check-up at ESI Hospital in Joka.

The lawyers for Mr Chatterjee prayed for his bail and his hospitalisation on the account of his ill health, while the ED appealed for his 14 days remand, submitting that the ill-gotten wealth seized from Ms Mukherjee's flat was linked to him. The judge rejected the minister's bail plea and remanded him in ED custody for two days.

The ED had planned to fly Mr Chatterjee to Bhubaneswar for further interrogation. He was, however, admitted to SSKM Hospital. In the evening, Ms Mukherjee was arrested. While leaving her flat, she angrily alleged, "I have done nothing wrong. This is a big ploy by the BJP. The ED tortured me."

Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee said, "We were not ready for such an incident. Mr Chatterjee's arrest will affect parliamentary affairs work. It is the constitutional obligation of the ED to inform me about its steps against any member of the House. They should do it."

Attacking the TMC, Midnapore BJP MP Dilip Ghosh and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari called Mr Chatterjee's arrest the "tip of the iceberg". Praising the ED, Mr Ghosh indicated that more arrests will follow in the case.

Mr Ghosh alleged, "One woman was found to have three flats. Around 21 crores were recovered from her. There is another woman whose name is Monalisa. She also has links with this case. She teaches at a university, lives in Santiniketan and owns 10 flats."

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