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Tata Tea officials probed on alleged nexus with ULFA

The Assam police's special operational unit has alerted immigration centres around the world for an absconding Tata Tea official. They also interrogated Tata Tea's top executives in connection with the company's alleged nexus with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom.

K Krishna Kumar, the company's managing director, has also been summoned for interrogation. The police also feels Williamson Magor, another tead company, too has close links with ULFA.

Tata Tea had allegedly paid the medical bills of ULFA cultural secretary Pranati Deka at Bombay's Jaslok hospital.

Executive director S M Kidwai and other Tata Tea officials were grilled by the investigating team till late into the night. The officials, based in Calcutta, were summoned by the state police to appear before the investigation team on Thursday. They arrived at noon, and were taken straight in for interrogation.

The Tatas have denied the charge against them, saying that the ULFA leaders may have clandestinely made use of their medical aid programmes.

But the tea company also said its medical scheme clearly mentioned that such help was given only in cases of heart problems, cancer and patients suffering from ear, nose and throat problems. Only one person had availed of such facilities, they said.

The Assam police had recovered documents from Deka allegedly proving that Tata Tea paid her hospital bills and also asked the hospital authorities to provide Deka an "A" category cabin. The police said Tata Tea had also provided a top gynaecologist to treat Deka, who was arrested later at the Santa Cruz airport in Bombay. She is now in jail at Guwahati.

During interrogation, Deka reportedly admitted to the tie-up with Tata Tea, prompting Assaam Director General of Police K Hrisikeshan to level the allegation against the tea company.

Senior police officers were tightlipped about the interrogation of Tata Tea officials. The prime accused, Dr Brojen Gogoi, its senior welfare officer, is away in Chicago. Tata Tea officials said he will return to India soon.

The Assam police accused Dr Gogoi of coordinating the entire operation and even accompanying Deka to Bombay for her initial treatment, Hrisikeshan said. During the ongoing investigation, the DGP said the police has found a similar nexus between Williamson Magor and ULFA.

''We have come across their clandestine dealing with the banned organisation. At one delivery they had paid Rs 15 million to a militant organisation,'' he added. 'We told the tea companies that either they be on our (the government's) side or their (the militant's) side. They cannot put fingers in two pies. We cannot allow it to happen,'' said the DGP, adding that other companies may also involved with militant organisations.

He said there were instances of the tea companies paying through foreign exchange abroad. ''But at this point we do not want to jeopardise the investigation disclosing more,'' he said.

The DGP did not rule out the arrest of the senior Tata Tea executives who were interrogated on Thursday. Krishna Kumar was originally asked to meet the investigating officials on Friday, but since he was in Bombay, the Assam police have given him another day.

ULFA leader Pranati Deka brought to Guwahati

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