New Delhi/ Bhubaneswar/ Berhampur, June 13: Six sitting and former Rajya Sabha MPs have been booked by the CBI in connection with the leave travel concession (LTC) scandal in which reimbursement was claimed through alleged forged bills.
CBI sources said today that three sitting MPs — Debabrata Bandopadhyay of the Trinamul Congress, Brajesh Pathak of the BSP and Lalhming Liana of Mizo National Front — have been named along with some travel agents in the cases registered by the agency.
Former Rajya Sabha members Renubala Pradhan (Biju Janata Dal), J.P.N. Singh (BJP) and Mahmood A. Madani (Rashtriya Lok Dal) were among the other accused.
CBI sources said that searches were carried out at 10 places in Delhi and Odisha on the premises of politicians and some travel agents who have been named in the case.
A CBI team today searched the residence of former BJD MP Renubala Pradhan in Berhampur and raided the house of one of her cousins in Bhubaneswar in connection with leave travel concession (LTC) scam.
Renubala, who stays at her Brahma Nagar residence in Berhampur, was a Rajya Sabha member from April 3, 2008 to April 2, 2014.
“A team comprising three CBI inspectors came to my Berhampur residence to enquire about the LTC scam. I had no idea about it. During my 17 years of political career, I have never encountered such a situation. For coming to Bhubaneswar, I usually buy air tickets from travel agencies in New Delhi. Somebody with ill intentions must have done it to defame me,” said Renubala who is a known face of the BJD in Ganjam district.
Shortly after the search operation was over, Renubala left for Bhubaneswar to present her case before the BJD high command.
Professing innocence in the LTC scam, the former BJD MP said that she would also leave for Delhi tomorrow to meet CBI officials on Monday.
An eight-member team of the premier investigating agency also searched the residence of Susant Kumar Pradhan, a cousin of Renubala, at Jagannath Nagar in Bhubaneswar this morning. The search continued for almost one and a half hours.
“The CBI officials reached my residence this morning with a search warrant and I fully cooperated with them,” said Susant, who is a government employee. He denied involvement of Renubala in the scam, which involves travel reimbursement claims on the basis of fake air tickets and boarding passes.
Earlier on Wednesday night, the CBI had raided a printing press in the Berhampur and seized a number of documents. The investigating agency had raided the press on the suspicion that fake travel related documents, including air tickets and boarding passes, were being printed there. Some government employees allegedly used these to claim LTC reimbursement.
A four-member team of the CBI had raided the Shakti Printers near Utkal Cinema Hall Square in the Bada Bazaar police station area of Berhampur and seized 14 master plates, hard disks and documents.
Sources said that the agency has found some more instances of alleged criminality during scrutiny of documents recovered during the first case registered in this connection on November 1 last.
In the first FIR in the LTA concession scam, CBI booked JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP Anil Kumar Sahani for allegedly siphoning off around Rs 9.5 lakh by presenting fake air tickets and boarding passes.
Besides the MP, an Air India customer service agent, Rubaina Akhtar, and a Lajpat Nagar-based travel operator, Air Cruise Travels Private Ltd, were also named in the FIR in the scam which saw LTC claims being allegedly forged citing travel on the state-run Air India.
During its analysis of documents, CBI had found prima facie irregularities in the LTC claims with an intention to maximise personal benefit by scuttling the laid-down norms in collusion with travel agents.
The scam came to light after the vigilance department of Air India (AI) was alerted about the arrest of a man at Calcutta airport last year in March with 600 blank boarding passes of the airline in his possession.
A CBI source said: “In these six cases, there were repeated instances of submitting fake bills hence we registered cases against them. We have, so far, given benefit of doubt to instances where MPs have submitted just one such bill.”
The FIR has alleged Madani presented nine such tickets for reimbursement worth Rs 5.80 lakh whereas actual payment to Air India was only Rs 6,000. Similarly, Lalhming Liana presented seven bills worth Rs 3.14 lakh for which only Rs 26,000 were actually paid to Air India.
They said it is alleged Singh presented six tickets worth Rs 1.97 lakh whereas actual payment was Rs 6,500, Bandopadhyay presented four tickets worth Rs 1.28 lakh with actual payment of Rs 2,000, Pradhan presented four bills worth Rs 1.62 lakh with actual payment of Rs 5,600 and Pathak presented eight bills worth Rs 2.20 lakh while Rs 10,000 were actually paid to Air India.
Reacting to the naming of his party colleague Bandopadhyay in the scam, TMC leader Derek O’Brien said in a tweet: “This is a racket run by corrupt travel agencies... my colleague innocent. But we will cooperate to bust travel agency scam.” In a statement, O’Brien also slammed the NDA government for using CBI against the main Opposition parties with a ”motive of political vendetta”.
Liana denied his involvement in the LTC scam. Liana said the allegations against him must be due to some “misunderstanding” of facts.