New Delhi, May 9: The Supreme Court today landed Mamata Banerjee a blow by ordering a CBI probe into the Saradha scandal that her government had fought hard to avoid.
The directive, coming ahead of the last phase of polls in Bengal, can make Trinamul jittery because several of its leaders and associates face allegations of Saradha Group links.
The court asked the central agency to probe an interstate deposit-mobilisation racket, involving many companies, in Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Tripura, citing grounds such as:
The scam’s magnitude, about Rs 10,000 crore at a conservative count. Over 25 lakh claims received, mostly from the poor;
Likely illegality of the deposit collections and failure to invest in meaningful businesses;
Inter-state ramifications and possible international money-laundering;
Possible involvement of politicians and other influential people;
Possible involvement of officials from regulatory bodies such as Sebi, Registrar of Companies and Reserve Bank;
Necessity to inspire public confidence, though the decision does not reflect on the state police agencies’ credibility.
Bengal had cited several objections to a CBI probe, some of which seemed to have been answered in the judgment, which did not refer to any specific state.
Bengal: Our probe is almost complete. (This newspaper had on April 21 reported how the state investigators were probing just 550 cases while refund figures suggested there were at least 3.95 lakh duped investors.)
SC: State police investigations in a scam involving “thousands of crores collected from the public allegedly because of the patronage of people occupying high positions in the system will hardly carry conviction”.
Bengal: SIT arrested the main accused, including Saradha chief Sudipta Sen and suspended Trinamul MP Kunal Ghosh.
SC: State police forces have “done well” but the question is whether this is “sufficient to inspire confidence of those aggrieved”.
For instance, the collections “far exceed the visible investment that the investigating agencies have till now identified”, which means the money trail hasn’t yet been traced.
(The bench referred to an interim forensic audit report submitted to Sebi that puts Saradha’s collections at Rs 2,459 crore. It then cited the “huge gap” between the collections and the Rs 40-110 crore, as estimated by the Bengal government, that Saradha had invested on real estate.)
Bengal: The apex court had itself queried the CBI’s impartiality in the past.
SC: There is “no basis to the apprehension expressed by the state governments”. So long as “there is nothing substantial affecting (the CBI’s) credibility, it remains a premier investigating agency”.
“We cannot, therefore, decline transfer of the cases only because of certain stray observations or misplaced apprehensions expressed by those connected with the scam or those likely to be affected by the investigation.”
The bench said a sealed report submitted by Bengal government counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan indicated the involvement of “important individuals at the state and the national level”.
Bengal’s move was possibly meant to show that it was sparing none.
The court rapped the regulators, saying Vaidyanathan’s synopsis suggested that “regular payments towards bribe were paid through middleman to some of those who were supposed to keep an eye on such ponzi companies”.
The bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and C. Nagappan passed the order on two PILs on the Saradha scam and one on irregularities in Odisha.