West Bengal Industry and Commerce Minister Partha Chatterjee was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday in connection with its investigation into the alleged school jobs scam, an official of the agency said.
He was later produced before a judge in the Bankshall court here and sent to the ED custody for two days.
The Trinamool Congress secretary general, who was the state education minister when the alleged irregularities took place, was arrested after around 26 hours of grilling in his residence in connection with the probe since Friday morning.
ED also arrested Chatterjee’s close aide Arpita Mukherjee, from whose property Rs 21 crore in cash was seized during a raid on Friday, the agency official said.
“Chatterjee was not cooperating with our officers who were questioning him since Friday morning. He will be produced before a court during the day,” the ED official told PTI.
The minister, who also holds the parliamentary affairs portfolio, was taken to an ESI Hospital where a medical check-up was conducted on him.
While coming out of the hospital, Chatterjee, when asked by reporters whether he tried to contact Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said, “I tried, but could not connect (to her).” Later, his counsel told reporters that as it is a Saturday, he would be again produced before the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court on Monday.
His lawyer argued in the court that since no unaccounted money and documents have been found at his residential premises but the house of Mukherjee, he should be granted bail, which the ED lawyers of the directorate opposed.
The court remanded him to the custody of the ED for two days.
While Mukherjee was whisked away by ED officials in a car, she told reporters: “I have done no wrong, it is a conspiracy by the BJP to malign me.” Chatterjee, who was the state education minister from 2014 to 2021, was grilled by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April and May this year in connection with the scam.
The TMC, which maintained a stoic silence on the issue, later in the evening called an emergency meeting at TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee’s office to decide on the party’s stand on the issue.
“We are keeping a close watch on the situation. We will come out with a statement at an appropriate time,” TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
Speaker Biman Banerjee said that the ED must inform the speaker before arresting a member of the assembly.
“The ED or CBI, while arresting any MP or MLA, has to inform the speaker of the Lok Sabha or the state assembly. This is the constitutional norm. But I have not received any communication from the ED about Chatterjee’s arrest,” he said.
The opposition BJP went hammer and tongs over the development and demanded a reply from the chief minister.
“The CM must issue a statement over the arrest of a cabinet minister. The arrest proves that the TMC is knee-deep in corruption,” BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh said.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said Chatterjee’s arrest reflects the “Bengal model of development” practised by TMC leaders.
“The seizure of Rs 21 crore in cash is just the tip of the iceberg. The CM should come out with a reply on this,” he said.