West Bengal Industry and Commerce Minister Partha Chatterjee was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on Saturday in connection with its investigation into the alleged school jobs scam, an official of the agency said.
He was later produced before a judge in the Bankshall court in Kolkata and sent to the ED custody for two days.
The Trinamool Congress secretary general, who was the state education minister when the alleged irregularities took place, was arrested after around 26 hours of grilling in his residence in connection with the probe since Friday morning.
The ED also arrested Chatterjee's close aide Arpita Mukherjee, from whose property Rs 21 crore in cash was seized during a raid on Friday, the agency official said.
"Chatterjee was not cooperating with our officers who were questioning him since Friday morning. He will be produced before a court during the day," the ED official told PTI.
The minister, who also holds the parliamentary affairs portfolio, was taken to an ESI Hospital where a medical check-up was conducted on him.
While coming out of the hospital, Chatterjee, when asked by reporters whether he tried to contact Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said, "I tried, but could not connect (to her)."
Later, his counsel told reporters that as it is a Saturday, he would be again produced before the Prevention of Money Laundering Act court on Monday.
His lawyer argued in the court that since no unaccounted money and documents have been found at his residential premises but the house of Mukherjee, he should be granted bail, which the ED lawyers of the directorate opposed.
The court remanded him to the custody of the ED for two days.
While Mukherjee was whisked away by ED officials in a car, she told reporters: "I have done no wrong, it is a conspiracy by the BJP to malign me."
Chatterjee, who was the state education minister from 2014 to 2021, was grilled by the Central Bureau of Investigation in April and May this year in connection with the scam.
The Trinamool Congress said that the party and the government will take action against arrested senior minister Partha Chatterjee if he is proven guilty of the school jobs scam.
TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh also made it clear that presently the party would not remove Chatterjee as a cabinet minister or the secretary general of the Trinamool Congress.
The party also claimed that it has no relation with the arrested minister's close associate Arpita Mukherjee.
"The TMC has full faith in the judiciary. If Partha Chatterjee is pronounced guilty by the court, the party and the government will take action against him," Ghosh told a press conference.
The party's reaction came at least nine hours after the ED arrested Chatterjee who was the education minister when the alleged irregularities in the recruitment process took place.
Senior leader Firhad Hakim, who was also present at the press conference, claimed that had Chatterjee joined the BJP, no one would have touched him as the saffron party has turned into a “washing machine”.
In West Bengal's political lexicon, “washing machine” is a political outfit which allows a leader to come out ‘taint free' after joining it.
“We have seen that in the past, if a guilty leader joins the BJP, the person goes scot-free. It seems that the BJP is afraid of the huge gathering that the city witnessed at the party's Martyrs Day rally on July 21," Hakim said.
Reacting to Chatterjee's claim that he tried to contact Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the questioning but could not connect to her, Hakim wondered how it was possible as phones are generally seized when any raid by the central agency begins.
The press conference came after an hour-long meeting at TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee's office in the presence of the party's top brass.
Speaker Biman Banerjee said that the ED must inform the speaker before arresting a member of the assembly.
"The ED or CBI, while arresting any MP or MLA, has to inform the speaker of the Lok Sabha or the state assembly. This is the constitutional norm. But I have not received any communication from the ED about Chatterjee's arrest," he said.
The opposition BJP went hammer and tongs over the development and demanded a reply from the chief minister.
"The CM must issue a statement over the arrest of a cabinet minister. The arrest proves that the TMC is knee-deep in corruption," BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh said.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said Chatterjee's arrest reflects the "Bengal model of development" practised by TMC leaders.
"The seizure of Rs 21 crore in cash is just the tip of the iceberg. The CM should come out with a reply on this," he said.