NEW DELHI -- Commotion broke out in West Bengal politics on Monday, with less than a month to go for State Assembly Election, as a sting operation unveiled in Delhi showed key leaders of the Trinamool Congress Party allegedly accepting cash for favouring a fictitious company.
The sting operation was conducted by journalist Mathew Samuel, who had also conducted Tehelka's Operation West End sting operation in 2001, which caused the then Defence Minister George Fernandes to resign.
This sting operation, X Files, includes Mukul Roy, who served as Railways Minister in 2012, Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Sultan Ahmed, the "Muslim face of party," Saugata Roy, former Urban Development Minister in the Manmohan Singh government, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, "the second most important woman leader in Trinamool Congress, and Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakkim.
Others who allegedly accepted cash were TMC leaders Sukhanto Adhikari and Karan Sharma, Madan Mitra, former minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, Mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee, lawmaker Iqbal Ahmed and M.H. Ahmed Mirza, a senior police official.
Interestingly, Samuel was till recently the editor Tehelka magazine, which is owned by TMC lawmaker and businessman K.D. Singh, whose Alchemist Group was found guilty of raising money illegally by markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India.
Samuel said today that this sting operation had no connection with Singh.
In the sting operation, now available online, senior TMC leaders are seen accepting bundles of cash in exchange for supporting operations of Impex Consultancy in West Bengal.
"Whatever you want, my assistance, I will give you," said Sultan Ahmed, former Union Minister for Tourism in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
"You want any letter, any recommendation form, I will do," he said, after allegedly receiving Rs.5 Lakh in cash.
"What would be left for kids if we deal with small stuffs," said Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakkim, allegedly in exchange for Rs.5 Lakh.
The cash involved in each transaction was between Rs.4 to 5 Lakh with the exception of Roy, who was offered Rs.20 Lakh.
In a press conference today, Mathew claimed that about Rs65 lakh was spent as bribe money to TMC leaders. He said the source of the money was Non Resident Indians (NRIs) from Dubai and the United States, without elaborating further.
The sting operation started two months before the 2014 Lok Sabha Election, and it was carried out for a period of two years, Mathew said.
The reporters, Samuel and Angel Abraham, decided to investigate corruption in West Bengal after her government was hit by the Rs 24.60 billion Saradha Chit Fund scam rocked the TMC government in 2014.
"What we recorded on camera is unbelievable. Here almost all leaders of TMC were willing to flout almost any rules of the state for a bundle of cash," the video-report said.
Fielding questions on timing of the release of this report, so close to the West Bengal Assembly Election, Samuel said that he was not politically motivated.
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Derek O’ Brien said he had seen the “ doctored” video, and dismissed the report as a “smear campaign” ahead of the State assembly election
“This is at best a minor distraction on a Monday morning. We are completely transparent. Mamata di’s credentials are impeccable. The people of Bengal know. We are all busy with elections now. So whoever has tried to concoct this smear campaign, please go ahead and concoct your smear campaign or your video, your doctored videos. Where these videos came from, who doctored these videos, who will not a defamation case, we are not bothered,” O’ Brien said.
“To all our political opponents, you know you can’t defeat us politically, so you try and create a cheap tricks department, a dirty tricks department," he said.
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