Saradha chief Sudipta Sen, in custody for almost a year, on February 18
April 16: The Saradha scandal has stormed back to centre-stage on the eve of the first round of Lok Sabha elections in Bengal because a central agency has done what state police could — or would — not do.
The Union finance ministry’s Enforcement Directorate arrested the second wife of Sudipta Sen, the Saradha Group chairman, and his son by his first marriage from different locations in Calcutta today.
Four north Bengal seats go to polls on Thursday, kicking off the five-phase elections in Bengal.
The arrests have not only brought to the boil the simmering pot of the deposit default scandal but they also heap ignominy on the state police and prompt questions whether the local investigators were dragging their feet under orders.
Although Sen himself was arrested in Jammu on April 23 last year, his immediate family members who may have had key information about the group’s assets had remained at large for almost a year.
Piyali (45), the second wife of Sen, was picked up from north Calcutta’s Baguiati, which is not more than 7km from the Bidhannagar hub of the state police’s investigations into the Saradha deposit defaults.
Subhojit (34), Sen’s son from an earlier marriage, was picked up from Behala. Both have been booked under Section 19 (I) of the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002. The Enforcement Directorate was probing the money-laundering aspect of the Saradha case.
An officer explained that as both of them were directors of various Saradha companies illegally mobilising deposits, the directorate was well within its rights to arrest the duo.
The swoop coincided with multiple developments elsewhere on the Saradha front. One, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing on a plea for a CBI probe into the scandal to which several Trinamul leaders have been linked. A ruling can take up to a month but the court today expressed surprise at the inaction of regulators, which allowed Saradha to collect deposits illegally from poor subscribers.
Two, chief minister Mamata Banerjee today launched a testy attack on Narendra Modi who had recently raised in Siliguri the “loot of poor people who saved Rs 10 a day”.
“Some people are deciding on the prime ministerial candidate. There are people who do not bother about their wives. If such people become the leader of the country, what will happen? Great,” Mamata told a rally in South Dinajpur’s Balurghat in an unmistakable reference to Modi.
“There are some who do not name their wives. If they give names, they don’t disclose their (wives’) address,” Mamata added.
A state government-appointed special investigation team (SIT) is probing the original case and the main accused, Sen and his deputy Debjani Mukherjee, are in its custody.
“Piyali and Subhojit were under ED surveillance for some time. Piyali was arrested today from her mother’s place on VIP Road while Subhojit was picked up from Behala while he was going somewhere,” said a source.
“The Bidhannagar police had been claiming all along that Sen’s two wives, Madhumita and Piyali, and the son were absconding and that’s why they could not be booked,” added the source.
Sen’s Saradha Group downed its shutters last April, triggering panic and a run on the companies as depositors queued up in vain for their money.
The cheating case became a political issue because Sen’s projected proximity with the Trinamul leadership was seen as the principal reason behind the depositors’ trust in his companies.
Mamata had defused the situation then by setting up a commission to assess the impact of the collapse and creating a fund of Rs 500 crore to compensate poor investors. Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh, who used to handle the media business of Sen, was arrested after he targeted the leadership and the action was portrayed as an example of the impartiality of the probe.
But the Enforcement Directorate, which had confiscated some known properties of Saradha, had complained several times that it was not getting co-operation from the state police.
Asked whether the Bidhannagar commissionerate was looking for Sen’s wife and son, commissioner Rajeev Kumar said tonight: “We have talked to almost all the directors of the Saradha Group in connection with the deposit scam case. We had also talked to Sen’s family members.”
On whether Sen’s wife and son were examined, he replied: “I am not specifying any name. We talked to almost all the directors and Sen’s family members and collected their statement during the course of the investigation.”