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First arrest for lodge owner death

The Trinamul leader from whose phone an alleged threat call had been made to the lodge owner found dead at home a week ago was arrested early on Sunday from Howrah station.

Riaz Khan, a dapper young man often spotted in the company of senior party leaders in Howrah, is the first person to be arrested in connection with the death of Sumit Naha, the 49-year-old owner of Bridge Lodge.

Naha’s family has blamed his death — he was found dead in a chair at his Baguiati home on June 23 — on threat calls and intimidation by Trinamul leader Dipak Shaw over a complaint of assault filed by the manager of the lodge three days earlier.

Riaz, a former president of the Trinamul Yuva in ward number 13 of Howrah, has been remanded in police custody for seven days.

Dipak, the main accused, is absconding. He is accused of assaulting lodge manager Asish Manna after being refused a room to use as his pleasure den.

“Riaz and Dipak are associates and would visit Bridge Lodge together. In fact, Dipak used Riaz’s phone to threaten Naha. Riaz can help us get to Dipak,” Nishat Parvez, deputy commissioner (headquarters) of Howrah police, said.

The police said Riaz was returning home from Bihar when he was arrested at the station. According to the police, he had fled Howrah after Naha’s death.

Leaders of a rival faction within Trinamul said Riaz had been in hiding in Howrah and not Bihar, as claimed by the police. They said the police hadn’t arrested him in almost a week because he was associated with the ruling Trinamul Congress.

“Even Dipak is hiding somewhere in Howrah but the police are not arresting him because they have not received the go-ahead from the Trinamul leadership in Howrah,” a leader of the rival faction said.

Until a few years ago, Riaz, a resident of Pilkhana in Howrah, was a close associate of a CPM leader for whom he worked. He crossed over to Trinamul just after the general elections in 2009, by which time the winds of political change had started blowing across the state.

In the Lok Sabha elections this year, Riaz had campaigned for Trinamul candidate Prasun Banerjee in ward number 14. He was often spotted with agriculture marketing minister and Howrah Central MLA Arup Roy at various programmes.

“Riaz would also go around with Dipak, who is a close associate of Santosh Sahani, the husband of the local councillor and also the ward president. The two of them would allegedly extort money from lorries and vans that arrived at the vegetable market in Howrah,” said a Trinamul leader belonging to the rival faction.

Sahani has denied any association with Dipak or Riaz.

Agriculture minister Roy said Riaz was no longer with the party. “Riaz was very active in Trinamul activities but was ousted after he was found tarnishing the party’s name. Since he was in the party, he was present in many programmes where senior leaders were also present. But there is no space for such people in the party…. We will not try to shield any such person and let the police do their work,” he said.

MP Banerjee said he didn’t know everyone who had campaigned for him because there were so many of them. “It is not possible for me to know the background of everybody. I am a former footballer…so many people come to shake hands when they spot me. But I don’t know all of them.”

Riaz always stood out in the crowd because of his love of good clothes. He is also known to be fascinated with fast bikes.

“Riaz has always been a little different from other party workers. He is always well dressed, rides fast bikes and uses the latest smartphones,” said a local Trinamul leader.

When he was produced in court on Sunday, Riaz was dressed in a pair of jeans, a fitted shirt with sleeves rolled up and a baseball cap.

Riaz, whose official business is supplying fish seed, would often accompany Dipak to Bridge Lodge, where they allegedly converted a room on the ground floor into a “personal suite”.

“A couple of years ago, Riaz encroached some space near the lodge that belonged to the government. He was using the place to carry out his business when he learnt about Bridge Lodge and that it was run by a manager and the owner stayed elsewhere. This is when Dipak and Riaz hatched the plan to use the lodge for their activities,” said an officer at Golabari police station.

Naha had apparently asked his manager to bar Dipak from blocking a room at the lodge. The night before Naha was found dead, Dipak allegedly used Riaz’s phone to threaten him.

Naha’s mother Manju alleged that her son died because of the threat calls from Dipak and others after he refused to withdraw the complaint his manager had lodged against them at Golabari police station. The family’s complaint against Dipak and Riaz mentions extortion and criminal intimidation.

Baguiati police station later added the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which is a non-bailable offence.

  • Name: Riaz Khan
  • Age: 38
  • Occupation: Fish seed business
  • Claim to fame: Close associate of Dipak Shaw; seen hobnobbing with senior Trinamul leaders
  • Political career: Crossed over to Trinamul from CPM in 2009. Campaigned for Trinamul MP Prasun Banerjee in the general elections. Spotted at various programmes with state minister Arup Roy
  • First political guide: Santosh Sahani, Trinamul president of ward No. 14
  • Passion: Clothes, bikes and smartphones