Trinamool Congress general secretary and West Bengal Minister for Education, Partha Chatterjee, has been summoned by the CBI in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam.
Chatterjee, the MLA from Behala Paschim Assembly constituency in the southern part of the city of Kolkata, is among the most senior members of the Trinamool Congress, and considered close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
With the summons to him in the Saradha case, the CBI has taken another step towards the Chief Minister herself.
Before Partha Chatterjee, Derek O’Brien
Only last month, the CBI had summoned the Trinamool Congress MP and one of the party’s most visible faces nationally, Derek O’Brien, in connection with the Saradha investigation.
O’Brien is the publisher of the Trinamool mouthpiece Jago Bangla. Transactions related to the bank accounts of the publication are under the CBI’s scanner. The editor of Jago Bangla, Subrata Bakshi, had been summoned before O’Brien.
Saradha scam and the Trinamool Congress
Chatterjee and O’Brien are only the latest in a long line of Trinamool leaders whom investigators have sought to link to the chit fund scam and its mastermind, Sudipta Sen. While building the Saradha empire, Sen had worked to build connections among politicians, and acquired media organisations.
* Actor and TMC MP Satabdi Roy and former Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty were brand ambassadors for Saradha.
* Sudipta Sen appointed former TMC MP Kunal Ghosh as the CEO of the media group in which Saradha invested heavily. Close to 1500 journalists were hired, and in 2013, at the height of Saradha’s influence, the group was running as many as eight newspapers in five languages. Kunal Ghosh was said to be paid a salary of Rs 16 lakh per month.
* Srinjoy Bose, also a former TMC MP, was involved in the Saradha group s media operations.
* Madan Mitra, once a very powerful TMC leader and former West Bengal Transport Minister, was the leader of the Saradha employees union.
* In the course of the investigations, the CBI questioned over a dozen TMC MLAs and MPs, and arrested Srinjoy Bose, Madan Mitra, and Kunal Ghosh.
* The CBI questioned Rajat Majumdar, a former TMC vice president and former DGP of West Bengal; Shankudeb Panda, and former chief of the Trinamool Youth Congress; Satabdi Roy, the former actor and serving TMC Lok Sabha MP from Birbhum; and Tapas Paul, former actor and former Trinamool Lok Sabha MP.
* Arpita Ghosh, the former TMC Lok Sabha MP, was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in the Saradha case.
Explained: The Saradha Ponzi scheme
In the early 2000s, Sudipta Sen started a "collective investment scheme" under the auspices of the Saradha group.
Small investors were promised very high returns. The money was collected through a wide network of agents who were paid huge commissions.
Saradha quickly raised Rs 2,500 crore, got filmstar endorsements, invested in football clubs, started media outlets, and sponsored large Durga Pujas.
Its operations extended from West Bengal to Odisha, Assam, and Tripura, and at its peak, had 17 lakh investors.
The securities market regulator, SEBI, had been watching Saradha’s operations, and asked the group in 2012 to stop accepting money from investors. The following year, the Ponzi scheme started to go bust — for the first time, Saradha’s cash outflow was more than its inflow. By the summer of 2013, the scheme had collapsed entirely, and police were flooded with complaints from investors and agents who had either lost money or not been given their dues.
Saradha case: The political controversy
Saradha has been used energetically by the BJP as a stick with which to beat the Trinamool. Before the Lok Sabha elections and afterward, the party has repeatedly attacked Mamata Banerjee and her party’s alleged links with the scam.
Earlier this year, the CBI sought to question a high-profile IPS officer considered close to Mamata Banerjee, whom it suspects of having handled the initial investigation in a partisan manner. The TMC, in turn, has accused the BJP and central government of misusing the CBI to go after its leaders.