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Scam arrest rocks tea sector

Siliguri, Dec. 20: The arrest of a tea trader today in connection with the multi-crore tax evasion scam ' that was detected in March this year ' has shaken the industry.

The development follows closely on the heels of another scam in which 'non-existent' tea worth over Rs 30 lakh was sold at Siliguri Tea Auction Centre.

Armed with an arrest warrant issued by the additional chief judicial magistrate, Barrackpore, sleuths of the bureau of investigation (BoI), the investigation wing of the sales tax department, raided the Milanpally house of tea trader Shyamlal Agarwal at 1.30 early this morning.

He was taken to the Siliguri court to be produced before additional chief judicial magistrate Sanjib Dey, but was rushed to the hospital after Agarwal complained that he was feeling unwell. 'The court has ordered Agarwal to be produced before it only after he is released from the hospital,' public prosecutor Subrata Saha said. 'Agarwal was taken to Siliguri subdivisional hospital first and then to North Bengal Medical College. He will be under police watch,' Saha added.

Defence lawyer Chinmoye Saha said: 'Just before he was to be produced, my client complained of chest pain. He had come to the court to present himself, but his health problem did not let that happen. We are waiting for him to recover.'

Agarwal is the latest trader to be arrested for his role in the scam. His name was disclosed by one of the two accused arrested earlier from Barrackpore.

In March this year, the commercial taxes directorate, as it was known earlier, unearthed massive tax evasions by traders for post-auction sale of tea. BoI sleuths found out that in more cases than one, the auction sale was made through proxy bidders on behalf of principle buyers, who did not bother to pay any central sales tax or give an account of what they did with tea bought from the auction centre.

Siliguri Tea Traders' Association (STTA) held a hasty meeting today. Its members said Agarwal had been framed. 'In good faith, he bid for a buyer, who did not pay up the taxes, putting him (Agarwal) in trouble,' a trader said. However, some felt the story could be different.

Rajiv Lochan, STTA secretary, criticised the manner in which Agarwal was arrested. 'He is a respectable trader and a governing body member of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee, not a criminal that the BoI men arrested him in the dead of night,' he said.

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