Suman Chattopadhyay has not got bail after the CBI arrested the journalist on charges of allegedly pocketing cash from chit fund owners.
New Delhi: Suman Chattopadhyay has not got bail after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested the journalist on charges of allegedly pocketing cash from chit fund owners. The fish curry, rice and traditional Bengali sweets that he is said to have been fed may be the only consolation as he remains in custody.
Kolkata, which comes to standstill even when students fight over hostel rooms, has not reacted. Mainline Bengali newspapers haven’t mostly said much barring the odd single column stories that skip mention of his name.
Chattopadhyay is said to have lived in the clouds. He was called Kolkata’s most arrogant editor. Just before his arrest, Chattopadhyay haughtily told an investigator, CBI officer Manish Upadhyay, that he was a brand and there were very few like him in India. The officer is said to have laughed in his face, before handing over the poker-faced Chattopadhyay - a copy of his bank statements, as well as a list of complaints of sexual harassment against him by female colleagues.
Brand and ego shattered in seconds, Chattopadhyay fell silent. His critics took to social media to take subtle digs at him.
Soon after being arrested, Ei Samay, the Bengali newspaper he started to take on the might and power of the Ananda Bazar Patrika, swiftly replaced him with its sports editor.
There are other worries looming large over Chattopadhyay. The investigating agency had already taken note of 15-odd apartments across Kolkata - allegedly owned by Chattopadhyay. “Who paid you all this cash for these houses? And why do you need so many flats?”, the investigators have asked him. Chattopadhyay denies he owns the apartments, but the paper trail repeatedly points at him.
In his heyday, he was the “Editor Who Knew Everything In Kolkata”. He filled his rooms with hundreds of books sent by publishers for reviews, but behind that mask was dubious deals conducted from the editor’s chair.
In Kolkata, the Ponzi owners were the city’s ideal carpetbaggers. As they grew in prominence and splurged cash all around, they needed Chattopadhyay on their side to expand their business.
Chattopadhyay owned a media house – Disha Productions & Media Ltd – that owned Disha, a Bengali magazine, and Ek Din, a Bengali newspaper. Cash for his ventures came from iCore. He took a little over Rs 40 crore, both from iCore and Sarada, with a bulk going to his personal accounts. He is also said to be involved in a dubious Rs 52 crore deal with Global Automobile, of which he was a director.
The owner of the company, Santanu Ghosh was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for being linked to a Rs 80 crore bank fraud. What let the cat out of the bag was the fact that he sold the magazine Disha for Rs 2 crore even though it had a negative net worth of Rs 7.28 crore.
At the heart of the whole saga are chit funds.
Newspaper magnets loved them, small industrialists loved them, football club owners loved them, top editors loved them. There were a host of these companies which sold nightmares as dreams to gullible investors, doubling their investments in the first go, and then asking them to put in some more. There was Sarada, Rose Valley, Alchemist and iCore.
Shady managers wore silk suits like film stars and operated from farmhouses in Kolkata. Some even bought bungalows close to the sea resort of Digha to pamper the rich and powerful. Others set up fake scooter plants. New TV channels emerged, daily newspapers started, the much sought after Lionel Messi and the near-wasted Diego Maradona and Bebeto visited Kolkata for matches, even appearances. The city’s top soccer clubs were hiring international footballers and paid them in cash delivered under the cover of darkness in gunny bags.
All these activities were seen as growth in an economy resurgent after change of government in Bengal. Next door states like Jharkhand and Odisha joined the cash riot. And then, one day, the companies collapsed after collecting over $4 billion.
Chattopadhyay was among those who had helped these companies flourish and benefitted in return. His arrest is significant as he is the first journalist to be arrested. So its all but natural for others in the profession to be doubly worried.
There is Srinjoy Bose, owner of Pratidin daily and Kolkata’s popular Mohun Bagan football club. There is Kunal Ghosh, who worked with Sarada. Both were once Trinamool MPs, and spent some time in jail and now on bail. Also in the dock are Trinamool MP Sudip Bandhopadhyay for his alleged involvement in the Rose Valley scam, veteran actor and Trinamool MP Tapas Pal. Both spent considerable time in jail. The most important face to suffer the Sarada blow was Madan Mitra, sports and transport minister and a confidante of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Mitra was arrested on December 12, 2014, and got bail after spending 21 months behind bars. Other party functionaries to be jailed were Trinamool vice-president Rajat Majumdar. High profile leaders who were subjected to grilling included the Trinamool strongman and now BJP leader Mukul Roy.
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