New Delhi: CBI officers questioned TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee, who appeared before them Saturday as part of the agency’s probe into the school jobs scam, for more than 9 hours before letting the young politician off. Banerjee told newspersons keeping vigil outside the CBI’s office at Nizam Palace here, that the questioning was a waste of time for both him and the investigative agency’s officers, but that he “cooperated in all that was asked”. “I was questioned for 9 and-a-half hours by CBI. Questioning was a waste of time for them (CBI officers) as well as for me,” said Banerjee after emerging from Nizam Palace. He claimed the real reason why he was called in was because, he had refused to be a “pet dog of Delhi’s bosses” and that is why he has been “targeted”.
He also alleged that while TMC leaders who were unwilling to bend were being harassed, BJP leaders who had been involved in various cases were allowed to go scot-free. Banerjee’s name cropped up in a complaint filed by Kuntal Ghosh, a local businessman and an accused in the school jobs scam, where he alleged that central investigating agencies were pressuring him to name Abhishek Banerjee in the case.
The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, entered the CBI office at 10:58 am and came out at around 8:40 pm, “I don’t blame them (CBI officers), as they are acting on orders from the BJP. However, such harassment will not deter me from continuing my mass outreach campaign or put an end to our political battle with the BJP,” he said.
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Reacting to the questioning of the MP and the accusations that the saffron party had a hand in it, the BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “The party has nothing to do with the CBI probe. If the TMC leaders have nothing to hide, why are they so bothered about being summoned and making such allegations?”.
“I dare the CBI to arrest me if they have any proof of corruption against me. They have been probing many cases in Bengal for the last several years. They should arrest me if they have any proof against me,” Abhishek said. The two-time TMC MP from Diamond Harbour has been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) twice in the coal pilferage case in the agency’s office in the national capital in 2021 and also in Kolkata in 2022.
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CBI officers are believed to have asked the TMC leader on Saturday why Kuntal Ghosh has alleged that he was being pressured to name him, according to sources. Abhishek is believed to have stated that he has no knowledge of the reasons behind Ghosh’s statement.A senior CBI officer told PTI that the TMC leader, was questioned in three shifts.
As her nephew was being questioned by the CBI, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted that the centre’s “agency-raj” has made her task of running the state challenging. “The agency-raj of an authoritarian government at the centre makes our task challenging, but millions (all) over the country are with us in our march,” Banerjee said on Twitter.
Before driving to the probe agency’s offices, the TMC leader wrote a letter to the CBI informing it of his decision to move the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order which allows investigative agencies CBI and ED to question him.”At the very onset, I state that I am rather shocked to find that the notice under reference was served upon me … Providing me less than a day’s time to comply,” he wrote.
Stating that he was in the midst of a two-month-long state-wide yatra to connect with the people of West Bengal, he said that while he wished to cooperate with the agencies and hence was abiding with the summons, it should be noted that he had “preferred a Special Leave Petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, thereby challenging the order dated 18.05.2023 (passed by Calcutta High Court)”.
Earlier in the day, the Enforcement Directorate conducted a raid at the residence of Sujay Krishna Bhadra, considered to be close to TMC top brass, in connection with its probe into the school jobs scam, an official of the central agency said.
The official said the raid which was still on, was carried out at the Behala house of ‘Kalighat er Kaku’ (Kalighat’s uncle) as he is popularly known. On March 15, Bhadra appeared before the CBI for his alleged involvement in illegal appointments made in different state-run and state-aided schools in West Bengal.
While the Central Bureau of Investigation is probing the criminal aspect of the scam, the ED is looking into the money trail involved in the alleged irregularities in school recruitment.
Abhishek Banerjee, who was on the campaign trail in Bankura in western Bengal, had rushed back to Kolkata Friday night to answer the summons sent by the central investigative agency. The investigative agency’s summons came within 24 hours of the Calcutta High Court dismissing on Thursday, a petition filed by Banerjee seeking recall of a previous court order, which said that investigative agencies such as CBI and ED could interrogate him in the teacher recruitment scam