Senior Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee was on Wednesday questioned by the Enforcement Directorate for a marathon nine hours in connection with the West Bengal teacher recruitment scam, officials said.
Soon after coming out of the ED office in Kolkata, Banerjee said the interrogation was an effort to prevent him from participating in the INDIA meet and a testimony to the vital role TMC is playing in forging the opposition unity.
The TMC national general secretary challenged the "central agency to submit his statement before the court" and said he won't cow down even if he is questioned for 72 hours.
Banerjee, the party's national general secretary, was questioned by the agency officials from 11.38am to 8.40pm, officials said.
"Banerjee was called to provide evidence in connection with the school recruitment irregularities," an ED official told PTI.
"The ED is wasting their time, but I don't blame them. The ED officials are doing it to please their political masters. Even if they question me for 72 hours continuously, I don't care as I have nothing to hide," he told reporters.
Banerjee missed the first coordination committee meeting of the opposition bloc 'INDIA' in New Delhi since he had to appear before the ED on the same day in Kolkata.
"The summons by ED was sent, so I can't attend the INDIA meeting. The summons is a testimony to the important role TMC plays in forging the opposition unity," he said while thanking the INDIA bloc leaders for issuing statements in his favour.
Banerjee said, "He is not hinting at any other political party" but said it is true that only TMC is being targeted by the CBI and the ED.
"The INDIA bloc will continue its fight against the BJP till it is ousted from power," he said.
While questioning the credibility of these central agencies, which are yet to solve the Saradha scam in the last nine years, Banerjee said whenever there is an important political event or election, he is summoned for harassment.
Accusing the central agencies of being involved in a political witch-hunt and paying no heed to corruption and siphoning off thousands of crores by businessmen like Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, Banerjee said the "BJP will pay for its sins once the INDIA bloc comes to power,"
"It will be the same ED and CBI. Only the Union government will change. Once the INDIA bloc comes to power, the BJP will pay for its sins," he said.
The nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, who entered the ED office at 11:38am and came out around 8:45 pm, said, "Summoning me is a waste of time both for the agency and mine."
"Summoning me won't give back Dhupguri seat, which the BJP lost to us in the bypolls. This summons is a sign of frustration of the BJP," he said.
While he maintained that he wanted to cooperate with the agencies, Banerjee dared the ED to arrest him if there was any proof of corruption against him.
"I dare the ED to arrest me if they have any proof of corruption against me. They have been probing many cases in Bengal for the last several years. They should arrest me if they have any proof against me," he said.
The summons to the TMC MP comes weeks after the central probe agency conducted raids in the city office of 'Leaps and Bounds Pvt Ltd' in connection with the school jobs scam.
The ED claimed that Banerjee is the chief executive officer of the company.
Speaking on the issue of 'Leaps and Bounds Pvt Ltd', Banerjee said, "There is a sinister attempt to prove that the ill-gotten money in school jobs scam was routed through this company. Let the central agencies prove it. This is a malicious campaign."
The two-time TMC MP from Diamond Harbour has been questioned by the ED twice in the coal pilferage case in the agency's office in the national capital in 2021 and also in Kolkata in 2022.
In May this year, he was questioned by the CBI for nine hours in the school jobs scam.
Questioning the efficiency of the central agency in probing cases as it has several pending cases in its track record, the No. 2 leader in TMC criticised the country's premium probing agency for never summoning the BJP leaders accused of corruption.
"Let the central agencies first arrest Suvendu Adhikari, a CBI's FIR named in the Narada case, and then arrest others also named in the FIR. But it has to start with the BJP leader," he said.
Speaking on the raging debate over INDIA versus BHARAT, the TMC MP said it was BJP's attempts to divert attention from issues such as price rise and unemployment.
"INDIA versus BHARAT is a distraction orchestrated by the BJP to divert attention from its failures, such as skyrocketing prices, rampant inflation, communal bigotry, border disputes and their empty rhetoric of double engine and nationalism. They have racked up this debate just because the opposition alliance has been named INDIA," he said.
On the questioning, an ED official said three of his colleagues questioned Banerjee on his role and association with ‘Leaps and Bounds,' the company allegedly involved in the scam.
"Banerjee was asked about his association with the company and whether he was still holding the position of the director," he said.
Asked whether Banerjee cooperated with the ED sleuths, the officer replied in the affirmative.
Banerjee had on Tuesday filed a supplementary affidavit before the Calcutta high court, claiming that a fresh summons issued to him by the ED, when his revisional application challenging earlier summons by the agency is pending, is "bad in law".
Stating that the TMC MP has been summoned on Wednesday "to give evidence", the affidavit said Banerjee has not only challenged the entire investigation qua (in the capacity of) him, but also the previous summons issued to him by the agency, in a revisional application filed by him before the high court.
Banerjee alleged in the supplementary affidavit that the ED has "initiated and embarked upon a fishing and roving inquiry to rope in the petitioner into the domain of the alleged teacher recruitment scam".