New Delhi: The CBI on Wednesday conducted searches at the premises of West Bengal Law Minister Moloy Ghatak in connection with its probe into alleged coal pilferage from Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in Asansol, officials said.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sleuths, aided by a huge contingent of central paramilitary personnel, raided three houses of Ghatak in Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district and two in Kolkata, they said.
The agency also conducted searches at one of Ghatak’s close associates’ residence in Kolkata’s Alipore area and another in Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district.
While the CBI team questioned the minister, who was present at his official quarters adjacent to Raj Bhavan in the city’s Dalhousie area, another team searched at his Lake Gardens home.
The searches continued till 4.30 pm, officials said.
“We asked him how his name keep cropping up in our investigation and what role he had to play. But, he avoided the questions calling the matter sub-judice,” a CBI officer told PTI.
“The minister’s chartered accountant was also questioned about his properties,” the officer said.
According to the officer, during the raid at the minister’s Asansol house, the mobile phones of his family members were taken away and they were made to sit together in a room.
In search of documents related to the case, if the CBI sleuths were unable to find the keys of almirahs, they broke them open, he added.
The areas around Ghatak’s residences were surrounded by central forces as the raids were going on, the official said.
Asserting that he would quit politics if the charges against him are proved, Ghatak said a “political witch-hunt” was on to malign him.
“I have one thing to say on the raid: this is being done to malign the party and me, which shouldn’t happen. This is a political witch-hunt, and even the ED, CBI and the press know at whose behest it is being done. Everybody knows who is responsible for the coal pilferage scam,” he told a press conference in the evening.
“Other than BJP leaders, if any person of Asansol says that I am connected with the coal pilferage scam, then I will quit politics. If they can prove anything, I will quit politics,” he added.
Ghatak said the CBI found nothing in the raid but Rs 14,000 in cash and “they didn’t seize the money, claiming it was an insignificant amount”.
He said he doesn’t have seven houses, and the money he has is all accounted for.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is also probing the money trail in the coal pilferage scam, also summoned Ghatak, asking him to appear before it in New Delhi on September 14.
“I haven’t received any notice. I saw a news report that I have been called to Delhi on September 14. I wrote to the ED, asking them to call me before September 13 as the assembly session will begin on September 14. I have always cooperated with the probe agency, and if they summon me, I will surely go to Delhi,” the minister said.
Ghatak, the Asansol Uttar MLA, had appeared once before the ED at its New Delhi office for questioning in connection with the case.
He, however, skipped several other summonses of the ED in connection with the multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to the Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in the state’s Kunustoria and Kajora areas.
On not appearing before the ED, the minister pointed to the timing of the summonses.
“Notice the dates on which I was called. The first time was four days before the Asansol civic polls. The next was six days before the Asansol Lok Sabha by-polls. I couldn’t appear because I was busy in the election campaign,” he said.
The BJP said that if the minister has done no wrong, he has nothing to fear.
“If someone has committed no wrong, why is he afraid to face the ED and CBI?” BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
The CBI had registered an FIR in November 2020 against the alleged kingpin of the pilferage racket, Anup Manjhi alias Lala, ECL general managers Amit Kumar Dhar and Jayesh Chandra Rai, ECL security chief Tanmay Das, Kunustoria area security inspector Dhananjay Rai and Kajor area security in-charge Debashish Mukherjee.
The raids were conducted weeks after senior TMC leaders Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mondal were arrested by the central agencies.
Chatterjee, the former education minister, was arrested by the ED in July in the school jobs scam, while Mondal who was the TMC’s Birbhum district president was arrested by CBI in the cattle smuggling case last month.