Calcutta High Court came down heavily on the Enforcement Directorate on Monday for its sloppy investigation into the Bengal recruitment scam and the tardy pace of the probe which, it noted, had left it "shocked out of its conscience".
In particular, it was scathing in its criticism of the ED for dragging its feet over investigating the possible involvement of Leaps and Bounds Private Limited – a company which has Trinamul Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee as its CEO and Lata Banerjee, Abhishek’s mother, as one of its directors – in the state’s primary school teachers’ recruitment scam.
The “inconsistencies” in the agency’s probe came to the court’s notice upon perusal of a report submitted by the ED in which it was supposed to provide details of assets owned by the company and its operatives but where the agency was deemed by the court to have fallen pitifully short.
“The matter was taken up for consideration by the court on 21st September 2023 and was directed to appear in the list on 10th October. But after perusal of the report which was filed by the Enforcement Directorate signed by Mithilesh Kumar Mishra, the Assistant Director, the court was constrained to put the matter on the list today,” Justice Amrita Sinha stated in her interim order, justifying her move to enlist the matter for an urgent hearing on Monday.
Taking note of the fact that the agency had merely forwarded to the court an “incomplete” list which was supplied to it by Abhishek Banerjee whose role in the company’s “dubious transactions” is currently under the agency’s scanner, the judge made no attempts to hide her dismay that Banerjee’s only asset disclosed in the report were three life insurance policies.
“The list of assets as forwarded by the learned advocate representing Shri Abhishek Banerjee appears to be grossly incomplete. The asset of Shri Abhishek Banerjee who is a Member of Parliament and the CEO of Leaps and Bounds Pvt Ltd as disclosed in the letter forwarded to the Enforcement Directorate mentions only three insurance policies with Life Insurance Corporation of India. No further detail of the assets of the said CEO has been mentioned,” Sinha stated in her order.
“A press release was made stating that the company has made dubious transactions and you don’t feel the need to enquire from its directors and members?” as exasperated Sinha lashed out during the course of hearing at the head of the ED’s special investigation team, Mithilesh Kumar Mishra, who was specially summoned to court on Monday.
'Are you a post office?'
“Are you a post office? Somebody has forwarded it and you have simply printed it out? The court wanted to know what the list of assets is. Why will you not give all the information you have with you? I was shocked to know that only three insurance policies are there. And he is a Member of Parliament. He must have a bank account where his salary is being credited. I fail to understand whether you are withholding information from the court or not?” the judge observed.
“The description of the assets of the company and its members and directors are also incomplete. Neither the valuation of the properties nor the mode of acquisition are mentioned therein,” she stated in her order.
No inquiry into change of address
Sinha noted that there was a change of address of the company which ED has not probed. “The address in which the company was registered does not figure in the list of assets produced in court. Do you follow the discrepancies? And do you realize what you are supposed to do and should have done already?” she told the ED officer who stayed largely mum to the judge’s reprimand.
Referring to the address of the premises where Abhishek resides and, as pointed out by advocate Bikash Bhattacharya, where the ED had previously served the leader his appearance notice before the agency, Sinha asked: “188 A, Harish Mukherjee Road… whose property is it? In whose name is it recorded?”
Upon Mishra stating he had the records available with him but divulged no further, the judge continued: “You cannot recollect off hand? The said premises are not included in the list of assets provided. Is it in the name of any of the directors or any of the members?”
“There appears to be inconsistency with regard to the address of the company. From the Memorandum of Association of the company, it appears that the same was registered with the address of 30 B, Harish Chatterjee Street, Kolkata 26. No further address is mentioned in the Memorandum of Association,” she stated in her order.
“The court is not an investigating agency. We are here to see whether the correct provision of the law has been applied and whether you have acted in accordance with the provisions of the law or not. But here it seems everything is just illegal. And you are not doing anything about it,” Sinha observed while spurning the filed report and added: “I am smelling something (fishy). Things are not alright.”
Directors not questioned
“Names of six directors of the company are mentioned. It appears that the Enforcement Directorate is yet to enquire regarding the transaction of the company from the directors,” the interim order put on record.
Taking cognizance of the agency’s submission that the name of Leaps and Bounds only surfaced after one of its former directors and a prime suspect Sujoy Krishna Bhadra was arrested on May 30 this year and faced custodial interrogation, the court directed: “The names, addresses, the bank account details of members of the company who are responsible for the day-to-day management of the company, after Sujoy Krishna Bhadra ceased to be the director with effect from 1st March 2016, shall be disclosed. The list of assets provided by the CEO of the company mentions a proprietorship firm in the name of one Lata Banerjee who also appears to be one of the directors of the company from its very inception. Details of the said proprietorship firm shall be obtained.”
The court order
“The investigating agencies shall enquire about the details of the employees of the company along with their bank account details from the date of joining. The valuation of the assets of the company shall be enquired and placed before the court,” the order further stated.
“The investigating agencies shall enquire from the Registrar of Companies as to whether the legal formalities were complied with if there’s a change in the registered address of the company and addition/alteration of the directors of the company,” it went on to add.
The detailed report, comprising the points mentioned in the court order, would have to be filed by both the ED and the CBI by October 10 when the case would come up for its next hearing, Sinha stated.
'Overworked and under-resourced' ED
Responding to the ED’s submission that it was “overworked and under-resourced” to maintain the necessary pace of the probe and that it required additional support from officers of the Financial Intelligence Unit, the court directed the agency to “take instructions from the director of ED as regards engagement of further investigating officers for the purpose of investigating the instant case keeping in mind the magnitude of the scam and the speed in which the investigation is progressing.” The matter, Sinha confirmed, would be taken up for consideration on September 29.
“More than 18 months have elapsed from the day the investigation was directed to be conducted. But hardly any result can be seen. The investigating agencies ought to take proper steps to introspect and find out the means for proceeding with the investigation in the right earnest,” the judge stated in her order and added: “The investigation ought to be dealt with extreme urgency because the candidates who have been appointed may not be eligible for imparting education to students of primary schools.”
Film industry personalities
The court also took note of the fact that despite the agencies previously claiming that a “huge number of people from the film industry” were involved in the scam’s money trail, only one name from the industry was featured in the ED report submitted to the judge.
“If this is the speed at which you travel, will the investigation ever come to an end? Will you ever reach the end of the tunnel,” the exasperated judge observed during the course of the hearing.