The Telegraph
Friday , April 18 , 2014
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Political shelter whiff in Saradha; harassment for rival candidate

Who is Piyali?

Calcutta, April 17: Enforcement Directorate sources said they had come across pieces of information that hinted at the involvement of at least two Bengal politicians in attempts to cover up the Saradha default scandal.

The scandal leaped back to the political stage in the middle of the election season after the central Enforcement Directorate arrested Piyali Sen, the wife of Saradha chief Sudipta Sen, and his son Subhojit.

“One (politician) prima facie tried to bail out Sudipta Sen when the crisis deepened last April while the other appears to have arranged shelter for his immediate family,” a source said.

“We had a specific lead that a politician from Bengal had sought the help of a Calcutta lawyer to draft the letter on behalf of Sudipta Sen, which he (Sen) sent to the CBI last year before announcing the closure of his establishments,” said an official.

That letter had sought to implicate several politicians from other parties while only second-rung representatives of Trinamul were mentioned, fuelling suggestions that the primary objective was to deflect attention from the leadership of the ruling party in Bengal.

It was suspected then itself that the letter was the brainchild of a powerful politician in Bengal. But not much was heard on this count after the Bengal police took up the investigation.

Against this background and the fresh suspicion that a politician sheltered Sen’s wife and son, the investigations by the Enforcement Directorate assume significance if the probe is allowed to take its own course.

Sources have already said the “trail” to the protector is “very weak”, suggesting that unless new information crops up, it could hit a dead end.

“It was a very weak trail. Before anything concrete could materialise, we managed to arrest her from her mother’s flat. Now that she is in our custody, we would try to know more,” said an official.

He said the investigators had learnt that Piyali had moved out of her Salt Lake home soon after Sen was arrested and gone “underground” till she “resurfaced” recently.

The central investigators feel Piyali was “in touch” with the shelter provider through “couriers”.

It was only a few months ago that she started living with her mother, Ratna Purakayastha, at the latter’s flat at Baguiati in north Calcutta. “Local people said she had another house in Baguiati and she would shift between the two houses. However, in February, she was forced to settle down at her mother’s flat after her brother got married and started living in the other house in Baguiati,” a source said.

Pictures from the Facebook account of one “Subhojit Sen (Raja Sen)” who identifies himself as “director of the Saradha Group of Companies” and lists BMWs among his likes. The ED is yet to verify the claims on the account

ED officials had visited the Baguiati house where she was finally found earlier as well but they had not found her there then.

However, what the ED officials have not been able to locate is the place where she had been hiding right after the arrest of her husband.

“We still do not have any direct evidence but there is material to suggest the involvement of a politician,” said a senior investigator.

Available information suggests Bengal police did not look for the wife and son although the ED had sought information on them.

If the local police were not under orders, they could easily have found the two — as was established by the arrests by the ED which does not have the local resources of the police. Such a line of inquiry will also prompt the question whether the family was being offered protection to buy silence from Sen.

The ED arrests have come as “sweet revenge” on Bengal police for all the “hostility” the central agency faced through its year-long probe, sources said.

Alleged non-cooperation and suppression of facts by the cops had prompted the directorate, a Union finance ministry arm, to move Calcutta High Court, after which partial help arrived.

But, sources said, the police continued to deny information on the whereabouts of Piyali and Subhojit. “The Bidhannagar police sat on our request. On being prodded, they said they had no information,” a directorate official said.

Piyali and Subhojit were today sent to five days’ ED custody. Directorate lawyer Abhijit Bhadra told the court that a sum of Rs 4.5 crore that Sen had collected from depositors had been routed through the personal bank accounts of the duo.

The lawyer said Rs 2 crore was routed through Piyali’s account, of which Rs 3.27 lakh was still left, and Rs 2.5 crore through that of Subhojit, which had a balance of Rs 11.34 lakh.

Officials said they were yet to ascertain where the rest of the Rs 4.5 crore allegedly routed through the two accounts went. The amounts are not significant, considering the hundreds of crores allegedly lost by the depositors, but such accounts could emerge as pieces in the cash jigsaw.

Another theory was that the cash was part of the “expense account” left with the Sens by those who were trying to deflect the course of the probe and may have been beneficiaries of the real — and yet-to-be-traced — Saradha pie.

The directorate, empowered to investigate economic offences across the country, had begun its probe in April last year after Sen’s arrest in connection with the deposit default crisis.

“First, Bidhannagar police denied us permission to examine Sudipta Sen and his deputy Debjani Mukherjee unofficially. Then they limited our access to documents related to the case,” a directorate official told The Telegraph.

“Subhojit and Piyali have combined property worth Rs 106.62 lakh. We have found a host of documents with their signatures that prove their official involvement in their capacity as directors of several group companies,” the directorate official said.

“If we could procure these documents, we have no doubt that the state police too had them. But they apparently did nothing to use them as evidence.”

According to the official, the documents showed “several illegal transactions in the name of persons other than the ones arrested (till then)”.

Asked whether the Bidhannagar commissionerate, too, had been looking for Subhojit and Piyali, commissioner Rajeev Kumar had told this newspaper last night: “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.”

Today, neither Kumar nor any senior officer was available for comment.