Breaking his silence over allegations that his wife was caught by the Customs at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport for possessing gold above the permissible limit and police had intervened on her behalf, Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee on Sunday said the charges were "false" and aimed at maligning the image of his wife and party.
The airport Customs had filed a complaint on Friday against the West Bengal Police for alleged intervention after Banerjee's wife Rujira Naroola was held for allegedly carrying excess gold without a declaration on the intervening night of March 15-16.
Naroola in turn filed a complaint against unnamed Customs officials under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 341 (wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or criminal force on woman), 506 (criminal intimidation), 509 (word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
While police declined to comment, S K Biswas, the Assistant Commissioner of Customs, under whose name the complaint was filed at the airport police station, claimed to have not seen the letter. "If I write a letter, it will also have my signature. Did you find my signature?" he told The Indian Express. The letter had no signature on it.
Sources in Customs Department said Naroola arrived from Bangkok by Thai Airways flight number TG313, and that around 3 am, a huge contingent of police reached the International Arrival Hall. "Since police kept pressuring us, to avoid such a situation in the future, we submitted a complaint," a Customs official said.
Speaking to mediapersons Sunday, Banerjee said his wife was "not carrying even 2 gm of gold" and shared a copy of his wife's complaint against the Customs, saying police had later converted it into an FIR. The nephew of Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, he also said his wife was a Thai passport holder as she was born and brought up there, and had gone to Thailand for medical treatment.
"Recently some television news channels, some news portals and leaders of the Opposition tried to mislead people by spreading news. They claimed that the Customs at the airport had caught my wife Ruchira Naroola with 2 kg of gold. Some said she was arrested and some said she was detained. Some even wrote that she was caught with USD 10,000 and lakhs of rupees. A section of BJP leaders and ministers shared the news to make it viral and take political mileage. I want to clarify that this news is not true. It is completely false," he said.
Banerjee added, "They have mentioned that the women passengers were randomly chosen considering their movement and profile. My question is what was that profile? Was it their association with me? If my wife was caught with 2 kg of gold, why was it not immediately confiscated? Was the chowkidar sleeping? Why did it take seven days for Customs officials to fabricate a complaint against my wife and police officers? Have they filed it to please their political bosses?"
He challenged the Customs to share footage of that night proving their allegations against his wife or police. "From 12.40 am till 1.55 am, can they show single footage of her getting special assistance from police? If they can, I will leave politics."
He claimed only one woman police personnel had come to Naroola's assistance, for 10 minutes. "When they started harassing her, we feared a medical emergency and that's why local police personnel was sent for her assistance."
Claiming Naroola had gone to Bangkok for a routine check-up, Banerjee said, "I can name the hospitals and I can give details to investigative officers."
Earlier in the day, the BJP said the matter must be taken up by the Election Commission. "Why did state police prevent Customs officials from discharging their duties? We think people have the right to know what happened," said BJP Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta.
The CPM and Congress have demanded a high-level independent inquiry to bring out the truth.