ED gets 10-day custody of Partha Chatterjee, partner in school scam case

A Kolkata court on Monday granted 10-day custody from the Directorate of Law Enforcement (ED) to West Bengal Minister Partha Chatterjee and his alleged associate Arpita Mukherjee, who were arrested in connection with his school job scam investigation.

The ED had requested custody of Chatterjee for 14 days, saying AIIMS, Bhubaneswar said in a report after the minister’s medical examination that no active intervention was required on his health.

Rejecting a request for bail from the Minister, Special ED Court Judge Jibon Kumar Sadhu of Bankshall Court extended the custody of the Minister’s ED as well as Mukherjee until August 3.

The court ordered in its order that the two defendants, who were arrested on July 23, be brought before it again on August 3.

Read | If found guilty, he must be punished: Mamata after minister arrested for employment scam

Chatterjee was taken to court on Saturday and taken into custody for two days in the emergency room, while Mukherjee was taken to court on Sunday and taken into custody for one day.

The ED prayed for Chatterjee’s custody for 14 days, saying he was in SSKM hospital, allegedly ill, so the agency was unable to interview him while in custody. two days granted by the court responsible for the CMM on Saturday.

The agency also prayed for Mukherjee’s custody for 13 days.

The Calcutta High Court on Sunday ordered Chatterjee to be taken to AIIMS, Bhubaneswar, for medical examination by specialists from various departments on Monday morning.

The judge ordered that a medical examination be carried out on the two defendants every 48 hours of their detention in the emergency room.

The court ordered the investigator not to torture the defendants.

The investigator was ordered not to subject Mukherjee to questioning in custody between 9 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The high court had on Sunday ordered the minister, who was education minister when the scam took place, to be virtually brought before a special ED court in Kolkata at 4 p.m. Monday.

The ED had moved the high court challenging an order by the Metropolitan Chief Magistrate (Responsible), Calcutta, sending Chatterjee to SSKM Hospital while rejecting his bail application and granting the agency two-day custody .

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju presented before Justice Sadhu the report of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar which he said states that no active intervention is required for the chronic illnesses suffered by Chatterjee.

It was also said that his vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation level were normal and blood sugar was under control.

Objecting to ED’s prayer, Chatterjee’s attorney asked for his release on bail.

Mukherjee’s lawyer has asked that she be granted short custody and that her safety be assured due to Sunday’s incident in which a vehicle hit a car in the convoy carrying her from court after production.

Seeking the dismissal of Chatterjee and Mukherjee, the ASG claimed in court that it was a very serious scam where deserving candidates were deprived of appointment as teachers in schools and undeserving candidates with money got jobs.

The High Court had ordered the CBI to investigate the recommendations of the State School Services Commission (SSC) regarding the alleged illegal appointments made by the West Bengal Secondary Education Board in government and grant-aided schools .

Pursuant to the order, the ED filed an FIR to investigate the money trail allegedly involved in the case and arrested Chatterjee, who is also the general secretary of the ruling Trinamool Congress, and his alleged associate Mukherjee.

Raju told the Special Court on Monday that Rs 21.9 crore in cash, gold ornaments, several mobile phones and other documents including a joint property deed were recovered during a search at the Mukherjee residence.

The ED lawyer argued that during the search of Mukherjee’s residence, a transfer deed in the common name of Chatterjee and Mukherjee was seized, which he said clearly indicates that the association dates back to at least 2012.

Claiming that Chatterjee and Mukherjee were involved in money laundering by engaging in a criminal conspiracy to illegally give jobs to undeserving candidates as teachers, Raju maintained that several documents were recovered during the operation. July 22 search of the minister’s residence.

Claiming that Chatterjee was uncooperative with agency investigators and that he was also initially reluctant to travel to Bhubaneswar, the ASG argued that the minister should be interviewed together with Mukherjee, whom he has described as the “close collaborator” of the minister.

Seeking custody of Chatterjee, Raju said it needed to be determined whether the liability ended here or lay elsewhere and whether there was more money at stake that needed to be found.

Challenging the ED claims, Chatterjee’s lawyer, Debasish Roy, argued that the search was carried out by agency detectives at the minister’s residence and that he was questioned for around 30 hours without giving him notice.

He claimed that Chatterjee is innocent and was falsely implicated in the case and that no recovery has been made of the Minister’s possession.

Seeking bail for the Minister, the lawyer argued that the offenses allegedly committed carry a maximum sentence of seven years if convicted and that arrest and custody are not necessary in these.

Stating that Chatterjee does not dispute that Mukherjee is an acquaintance, his lawyer argued that this does not mean that the money recovered from his residence has a relationship with the minister.

After hearing oral arguments in a review application filed by the ED challenging a lower court order sending Chatterjee to SSKM Hospital after his lawyers claimed he was ill, Judge Bibek Chaudhuri ordered on Sunday that AIIMS, the authority of Bhubaneswar, will medically examine the accused by a team of medical specialists.

Making scathing remarks against the SSKM Hospital, Judge Chaudhuri said that in the recent past, more than one high-ranking political leader belonging to the ruling political party who had been arrested or summoned to appear before the authority responsible for the investigation for questioning had avoided him by taking refuge in this hospital.

Judge Chaudhuri on Monday refused to hear a plea from Chatterjee’s lawyer for the deletion of the submissions, who said they would hamper the fate of the defendant’s bail application.

Calling “irregularities” in the SSC’s recommendation of teaching and non-teaching staff appointments a “public scam”, a High Court Appeals Division bench had said only one bench of Judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay did not was not wrong to order an investigation into the alleged money trail involved.

Believing that a five-member committee appointed to oversee the 2016 panel appointment process for the recruitment of teachers for grades 9 and 10 and group C and D staff of West Bengal government and aided schools was illegal, the single bench had ordered the then state Minister of Education to appear before the CBI.

At least eight orders have been issued by the single bench directing the CBI to investigate alleged irregularities in the appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff from a panel of candidates formed in 2016.

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