12:27 am - Wednesday November 4, 2015

CBI to take over probe into Saradha scam, Mamata govt suffers a setback

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The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam in West Bengal, Odisha and Assam that left lakhs of small investors bankrupt.
The apex court order into the scam comes only three days before the fifth and final phase of polling in West Bengal and despite an opposition against a CBI probe from the Mamata Banerjee government.

“In view of inter-state ramifications, involvement of higher ups, including politicians and aspects of money laundering, a CBI probe is necessary,” the apex court said.

The apex court bench headed by justice TS Thakur said that the investigating agency will also look into any other ponzi scheme involved in chit fund scam in West Bengal, besides Saradha.

Hundreds of thousands of people in West Bengal, Orissa, Tripura, Jharkhand and Assam lost crores of rupees in the scam in April last year.

Handing over the investigation to the CBI, the SC said that the investigation by the West Bengal police did not make any headway in inter-state ramification of the scam.

The SC also asked CBI to look into the money laundering dimension in the chit fund scam.

The court said the state police has not been able to make any headway in the conspiracy angle, money trail and the seizure of the properties related to the scam.

The West Bengal government, all through the hearing of the matter, had strongly resisted the plea for handing over the investigation to the CBI.

Saradha Group chairperson Sudipta Sen was sentenced to three years in jail in February this year by a court in Kolkata after he confessed to flouting provident fund guidelines.

With headquarters in Kolkata, Sen used to head the Saradha Group that forayed into ponzi schemes, real estate, tourism, media and fast moving consumer goods.

The scam also kicked up a political storm in West Bengal.

The opposition criticised chief minister Banerjee and some senior leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress for their alleged ties with several ponzi scheme companies, including Saradha.

Saradha’s media arms (newspapers and TV news channels), launched a year before the 2011 assembly elections in Bengal (in which the Trinamool Congress ousted the Left), were all praise for Banerjee and her party during their three-year existence.

Banerjee, however, has denied the allegations of having a cordial relationship with ponzi scheme firms.

Her stated position is all such companies entered the market during the Left rule.

Sen, who presided over a ponzi scheme empire that collapsed in April last year, admitted that various arms of the Saradha Group did not deposit money deducted from employees’ salary to their provident fund accounts.

Sen also faces a string of complaints in connection with the ponzi scheme scam estimated to be worth around Rs. 20,000 crore.

Sen had told the police that he wanted to admit his guilt in the provident fund case, which was opened last year after a former employee of the Saradha Group filed a complaint with the police against him.

The complaint also named three others – Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha parliamentarian Kunal Ghosh, Saradha executive director Debjani Mukherjee and another company official Somnath Dutta.

Ghosh, who took on chief minister Mamata Banerjee and a host of party leaders for turning a blind eye to Saradha’s wrongdoings, has been indefinitely suspended by the Trinamool Congress. He is now behind bars.

Around 1.7 million Saradha investors were duped. Many investors as well as some company agents have committed suicide after the scam came into the light.

Saradha’s employees had alleged that even though due amount was deducted from their salary in order to be deposited in provident fund, it was rarely done.

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