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Saradha quiz list in the works

- Political brawl as focus shifts to ‘beneficiaries’
Sudipta Sen

Calcutta, April 18: The Enforcement Directorate is drawing up a list of persons to be questioned in the Saradha scandal that today touched off a full-blown clash on the campaign trail.

The directorate is said to be focusing immediate attention on 11 persons, including some politicians and one minister. A retired IPS officer close to a senior politician may be called for questioning, sources said.

If substantial leads are thrown up, the 11 persons are expected to be summoned for questioning, a source added.

Multiple sources echoed him but some cautioned that they were not sure which way the investigation would turn, pointing out that both state and central agencies — the ED reports to the Union finance ministry — had not made much headway in the past one year in getting to the root of what the Supreme Court had referred to as the “larger conspiracy”.

However, in what is being seen as another sign that central agencies are stepping on the gas, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) is expected to send a team to Calcutta soon to question Saradha chief Sudipta Sen’s wife and his son who were arrested by the ED on Wednesday.

On the campaign trail, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who alleged a conspiracy to kill her after smoke emitted from an air-conditioner last evening, was compelled to refer to the Saradha controversy. “We shall take legal recourse. We will not spare anyone,” she said, referring to those who are “saying Trinamul has taken money from someone”.

Her rival and predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told a rally later that “the person who was the symbol of honesty has become the symbol of Saradha”.

It is in this charged atmosphere that the probe will proceed. Sources said the purported list of those to be called for questioning includes the alleged beneficiaries of the Saradha funds. “The list has been prepared on the basis of what Sen’s wife Piyali and son Subhojit have revealed during investigations,” said an official.

Another official said some leads suggested several politicians in Bengal had been paid large sums of money before the 2011 Assembly elections.

“No evidence of these donations was found in the records of bank accounts of the Saradha group because we suspect that the payments were made in cash. Those who received the money from Sen’s company will come under the purview of our investigation and we are preparing the list accordingly,” the official said.

“We will run the final check. If the leads still stand, these 11 persons will be asked to appear at our office for questioning,” the officer said. “They will be served the summons thrice. If they fail to turn up even after the third summons, we will inform our Delhi headquarters for the next course of action,” he added.

The ED has secured permission from the court to interrogate Sen and suspended Trinamul MP Kunal Ghosh to cross-check the information gathered from Piyali and Subhojit.

The ED had earlier attached Saradha property worth Rs 140 crore in Bengal and Odisha. “That was the first phase of our probe. The arrests of Piyali and Subhojit are part of the second phase. Now we are focused on the money trail of Sen’s company and where it all ended up,” an official said.

The line of inquiry seems to suggest that the ED is focusing on tracking down the alleged beneficiaries of the missing Saradha money. “Now our job is to find out where the money that was collected from people in cash has gone and who are the beneficiaries.”

Yesterday, ED officials had taken Piyali to the Baguiati branch of a private bank to check the details of her account and the transactions made from there.

Asked why the ED did not act on its own earlier and trace Piyali and Subhojit, an official echoed what another source had told this newspaper yesterday.

“The state police said they had no idea of the whereabouts of the two when we were repeatedly asking them to secure them for us for questioning. Either they were in a safe house and could not be located or they were not apprehending them under political direction,” the official said today.