Senior journalist Vinod Verma was arrested by the Chhattisgarh Police from his Ghaziabad residence early today for suspected blackmail and extortion related to a “sex CD” allegedly involving a state minister, who called it “fake” and an attempt at character assassination.
Verma, who earlier worked with BBC Hindi service and Amar Ujala, was denied bail and Chhattisgarh police was given his transit remand till October 30 after he was produced before Chief Judicial Magistrate Archna in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. Verma is also a member of Editors Guild of India.
Raipur Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Shukla claimed that about 500 “porn” CDs, Rs 2 lakh in cash, a pen drive, a laptop and a diary were seized from the journalist’s residence, who was picked up at 3.30 am from Mahagun Mansion Apartments in Indirapuram by a team of the Chhattisgarh Police with the help of the Ghaziabad Police.
The SP said that Verma has been booked under Section 67 (A) Information Technology (IT) Act for possessing pornographic material.
As Verma was being escorted by police, he claimed that the Chhattisgarh government was not happy with him as it suspected that he had a “sex CD of Chhattisgarh public works department minister Rajesh Munot” and suggested he was being framed.
Munot said the CD was “fake” and an “attempt at character assassination” even as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress traded charges over the issue.
Addressing a press conference in Raipur, Munot demanded that the CD be examined for its genuineness and action taken against those involved in this “conspiracy”.
Chhattisgarh BJP spokesperson Shivratan Sharma alleged that state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel was part of the “conspiracy” involving the “fake CD”.
“If Bhupesh Baghel had the CD he should have approached police and registered a case,” the BJP leader said, alleging, that the whole purpose of the conspiracy was blackmailing.
Sharma and Munot also questioned as to why “500 copies of the CD were made” by the journalist.
On the other hand, Baghel demanded the minister’s resignation over the issue and claimed that the FIR didn’t name Vinod Verma.
He said a case of blackmail and extortion was registered at Pandri police station in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh following a complaint by one Prakash Bajaj who said that he “was being harassed over phone by an unidentified caller who told him that he had a CD of his master”.
Bajaj had told the police that the caller threatened to distribute the CD if he was not given what he asked for, Shukla said, adding search teams were sent to Delhi to trace the scribe. “During the probe, the police came to know about a shop where the CD in question was copied. The shopkeeper told the police that one Vinod Verma had got 1,000 copies made of the CD,” Shukla said.
They then contacted their Ghaziabad counterparts and arrested the scribe from his house, and recovered the CDs and other material, he said.
Shukla said Verma has been booked under the Information Technology Act.
As news of the arrest spread, many senior journalists from the electronic and print media gathered outside the Ghaziabad police station.
Aam Aadmi Party leader and former journalist Ashutosh termed the development an “attack on the press”.
Asked about accusations that he was making CDs, Verma told journalists while being taken from the Indirapuram police station to court, “just pen drive... nothing else. I have nothing to with CDs. The CD is in the public domain.”
The Congress accused the BJP of squeezing press freedom and demanded immediate release of the scribe.
Senior Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken also demanded a judicial probe into the “serious sex-related allegations” against the Chhattisgarh minister, which, he added, were being investigated by the journalist.
BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao hit back at Maken, saying it was shameful that the opposition party was confusing media freedom with criminal activities.
Supreme Court advocate and Congress leader Naseeb Ahmed Khan Pathan appeared along with two other lawyers for Verma and moved a bail plea in the CJM court.
Pathan told reporters Verma’s bail plea has been rejected and transit remand has been granted to Chhattisgarh police.
“Vinod Verma would be produced before the district court of Raipur on October 30 and a fresh bail application will be moved,” the defence lawyer said.
Sanjay Singh, investigating officer and inspector of Crime Branch Raipur, sought transit remand of Verma.