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Cop heat on tea firms’ rebel funds

The police on Monday said they would charge all four tea companies, headquartered in Calcutta with business interests in Assam, with indulging in “anti-national activities” for funding the Bodo rebels. The police have also learnt that these companies had been funding the National Democratic Front for Bodoland (NDFB) rebels not only for the last two years, as initial interrogation had revealed, but at least for the past seven to eight years.

Without naming the four tea companies, city detective department chief Soumen Mitra said: “We are collecting evidence against these tea firms and we shall take penal and legal action against them very soon.” Mitra said that the police had already started questioning executives of the companies to dig up their links with the militants.

“We are not even inclined to believe that this is a case of extortion,” Mitra said. “We believe that this is a case of funding the Bodo militants, since none of the four tea companies has come forward to lodge a complaint, saying that they are victims of an extortion racket. We shall deal with these companies accordingly and, let me also add, very sternly.”

“We have now realised that the crackdown on Tata Tea in 1997 had failed to cut off the steady flow of funds from the tea industry to insurgent groups,” said a senior police official of the Assam police probing the case. “While we could stop one tea major, others, including the four we have identified in this case, had carried on with the payments they were making to buy peace with the rebels.”

Last Wednesday, acting on a tip-off provided by their Assam counterparts, the city police had arrested two NDFB militants — Sunil Brahma, a former secretary of the outfit and one of NDFB’s central committee members, and David Waris, an NDFB ‘captain’— from a hotel in the Park Circus area. They had with them Rs 10 lakh, which they said they had collected from four tea firms in the city with gardens in Assam.

Interrogation had revealed that they had been making regular trips to the city to collect the money, convert it into dollars and carry it back to Assam. Initially, the two militants had told the police from Assam, Nagaland and Jalpaiguri district, besides the city police, that this “business” has been going on only for the past couple of years. But now, the police have traced the money trail back for longer.

The police believe that the recent crackdown on the rebels by the Assam police had forced them to grab whatever they got. “They are short on funds and are trying to extort whatever they can lay their hands on,” an officer said. “Rs 10 lakh is not a very big sum by their standards, but the two arrested rebels seemed quite satisfied with it.”

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