The Howrah police Sunday arrested three Jharkhand Congress MLAs – Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Vixel Kongari – who were detained in West Bengal on Saturday after a huge amount of cash was found in their vehicle, officers said. A driver and an associate have also been arrested. The police said the cash recovered amounts to Rs 49 lakh.
SP Howrah Swati Bhagalia told The Indian Express that an investigation is underway. “This is a huge sum of unaccounted money. From where they got the cash is part of the investigation. For now, five people have been arrested because they failed to give a reasonable explanation for the cash,” he said. All five were arrested after prolonged questioning that lasted over 24 hours.
The MLAs were travelling from Jamtara in Jharkhand to East Midnapore in West Bengal by road when the police intercepted their car in Howrah. According to police sources, during investigation they found that the MLAs had gone to Guwahati on Friday and returned on Saturday. However, on being asked the purpose of their visit, they were unable to give a proper explanation, officers said.
The police said they had received a tip-off that a group of people with a huge amount of cash was travelling in a car on Saturday. After being caught the MLAs initially claimed that they were planning to buy sarees from Burrabazar, a popular marketplace in Kolkata where sarees are available at cheaper rates, for a tribal festival in Jharkhand, officers said.
A case has been lodged at Panchla police station under section 420 (cheating and fraud), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 171E (bribery) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and section 8/9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The arrest has also triggered a political blame game. BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said, “The way the TMC is reacting it seems it was the TMC’s money which they were trying to siphon off with the help of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress.”
TMC spokesperson and state general secretary Kunal Ghosh slammed Majumdar’s statement. “Majumdar is suffering from an identity crisis. About this money recovery, one person who can explain better is Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury who appears to be an expert in cash recoveries,” Ghosh said in an apparent reference to Chowdhury’s earlier statements related to the recovery of cash in the SSC scam. “Also, there is a possibility that the money was to be used to destabilise the Jharkhand government as well,” he added.