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CBI’s first catch: East Bengal boss
Who’s next, wonder Saradha guardians

East Bengal official Debabrata Sarkar outside the CBI office in Calcutta just before he was arrested on Wednesday. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta

Calcutta, Aug. 20: The CBI today arrested the de facto boss of East Bengal club, marking the national agency’s first such action in the Saradha case and sending a “who’s-next” shiver down Bengal’s political spine.

Debabrata Sarkar a.k.a Nitu, an executive committee member of East Bengal club, been arrested on the charge of “conspiring with the Saradha top brass in misappropriation of company funds”, the CBI said.

Sources said he had been booked under charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation.

A purported letter written by Saradha chief Sudipta Sen to the CBI in April last year mentions “one Mr. Debabrata Sarkar alias Nitu who is the de-facto secretary of the East Bengal club”.

The letter had claimed that Sarkar “assured me that he will cover the SEBI matter through the present chairman of SEBI Mr U.K. Sinha & other persons…. In the year 2010 at the time of receiving the assignment, he took Rs 5 (five) crores and thereafter every month he took Rs 80 lacs more or less….”

Whether Sen actually wrote the letter or someone else dictated it to him to shield the real puppet masters has always been a matter of speculation.

Today’s arrest sent ripples across the political spectrum as Sarkar, whose influence in the club stretches far beyond his official status on paper, is known to be close to many leaders in several parties.

The response of a minister this evening, informed by this newspaper of the arrest, summed up the mood at a time the chief minister is abroad. “Right now I am very ill…. I am undergoing echocardiography and would not be able to comment on anything,” said the minister who is known to be close to Sarkar.

A senior Trinamul leader said: “Within the party, every leader wants to know who would be next.”

Known as Nitu on the Maidan circuit, Sarkar is the most powerful official in East Bengal. On paper, he may only be an executive committee member but the clout and authority he wields within is enormous and he controls almost every aspect of the club.

After Trinamul came to power, Sarkar had inducted Ajit Banerjee, Bengal Olympic Association (BOA) president and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s brother, into East Bengal’s executive committee.

Former club secretary Dipak (Paltu) Das had brought Sarkar into the club administration. Das was close to Congress’s Somen Mitra and Sarkar dabbled in political activity in the Bowbazar-Sealdah belt. Sarkar was also close to some CPM leaders.

He had played a key role in elections to the Cricket Association of Bengal, the BOA and the Indian Football Association.

“After Somen-da joined Trinamul, Sarkar started developing contacts in the party. He is close to at least two ministers and a very senior leader,” said a source.

Mitra, the first politician to raise the issue of mushrooming cash-collection firms in Bengal, said this evening: “I have known him (Sarkar) for the last 40 years. He is like a younger brother to me. But I don’t know about his association with the Saradha Group.”

Sources said the CBI, which had searched Sarkar’s house in north Calcutta’s Sinthee last week, decided to execute the arrest as the investigators were not satisfied with some of the replies on the sources of funds that passed through his bank accounts. The questions were based on information that the search had yielded, sources said.

Around 9.30pm, when Sarkar was brought out of the CBI office in Salt Lake to be taken to a police station, he said: “Aamakey phashano hoyechhey (I have been framed). My lawyer would speak on my behalf.”

Sarkar will spend the night at Bidhannagar North police station which falls under the jurisdiction of commissioner Rajeev Kumar whose team had probed the Saradha scandal on the state government’s behalf.

The state police had neither questioned Sarkar nor searched his premises. Kumar, the recipient of the chief minister’s award for excellence in public service on August 15, was not available for comment this evening.

In May, overruling the Mamata government’s objections, the Supreme Court had handed over the Saradha probe to the CBI.

In July, the central Enforcement Directorate had questioned Sarkar who had said he was not summoned personally but as a senior functionary of one of the oldest football clubs in the country.

East Bengal secretary Kalyan Majumdar said after a meeting late this evening: “We are getting ready for a legal battle…. We are with Debabrata Sarkar.”

Another club official said: “The law will take its own course. We are trying to get in touch with some top lawyers of the country so that he gets bail as early as possible.”