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Bengal minister Jyotipriyo Mallick faints in court after arrest in PMLA case linked to 'ration scam'

Kolkata: WestBengalministerJyotipriyaMallick, who wasarrestedinthe early hours of Fridayina money launderingcaselinkedtoan alleged multi-crorerationdistributionscam,faintedinside an overcrowded courtroom when he was produced there by Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers.

The state forestministercollapsedafterfaintingduring a hearing inside the Bankshallcourthere and was later rushedtoa city hospital for immediate medical care, an official said.Mallickwho has been suffering from a number of ailments, was producedincourtafterbeing medically examined at the ESI Hospitalinsouthern Kolkata.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED)arrestedthe WestBengalministerunder the Prevention of Money Laundering Actinthe early hours of Friday following over 17-18 hours of questioning, they said.

ED officials saidMallickwas taken from his homeinthe Salt Lake area on the outskirts of Kolkatatothe central agency’s office here around 3:30 am. “I am a victim of a great conspiracy,” the TMCministertold reportersafterbeingarrestedby EDinconnection with the allegedrationdistributionscam.

Mallickalso alleged that the “conspiracy was hatched by the BJP and its leader Suvendu Adhikari”, a former colleagueinthe TMC party.

“It is a conspiracy. The BJP is actively engaginginplotting nefarious schemes against us,” saidMallick, who is currently state forestministerand had previously held the portfolio of food and supplies.

Earlier on Thursday, ChiefMinisterMamata Banerjee had threatenedtofile a police cas if anything happenedtoMallickduring the questioning as he was unwell and had several medical ailments. Banerjee had also termed the raids by the ED against opposition leaders as “a dirty political game” by the BJP.

The ED had earlierarresteda confidant of theminister, Bakibur Rahman, whose remand is ending this week. Sources said that the central agency may seektoconfront the two with each other’s version of eventsinthecase.Mallick’sarrestis the second instance of a cabinetministerof TMC being apprehended by central agenciesinconnection with corruptioncases.

Last year, former stateministerPartha Chatterjee wasarrestedby the EDinacaserelatedtoa school jobscam. The agency had searchedMallick’s residences on Thursday. It also raided his ancestral house on Amherst Streetincentral Kolkata. The allegedscampertainstoreported irregularitiesinthe public distribution system and alsointhe distribution of food grains during the Covid lockdowns.

The ED had soughtMallick’s custody as he was “non-cooperative”, officials said. “He was non-cooperative and gave confusing and self-contradictory repliestoour officers during the questioning yesterday. He kept on saying that he was unabletotake questions as he was ill. We need himtoget answerstoseveral queries relatedtothescam,” the ED officer told PTI.

The TMC labelled thearrestof its seniorminister,JyotipriyoMallick, as “vendetta” politics and questioned the absence of action against BJP leaders who switched sides, facing corruptioncasesand investigations by central agencies.

Leading the TMC’s response,MinisterShashi Panja accused the BJP of attemptingtosilence opposition voices raising issues pertinenttothe people.

She stated, “It is an attempt by the BJPtomuzzle the opposition raising pro-people issues.”

Panja went ontoask, “ The question is why corrupt BJP leaders and turncoats who have corruption charges against them are never summoned by the ED and CBI.”

She claimed the BJP is scared of the people’s movement launched by TMC demanding clearance of MGNREGA dues.

Panja also alleged that the “BJP has engagedinwitch-hunting … (and) weaponized the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI” against opponents and added this “strategy would face resistance from the people ofBengalinthe 2024 Lok Sabha polls”.

Inresponsetothearrestof the stateminister, the BJP said it was “expected” considering the pace of the investigationinthecase. BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “Thearrestwas anticipatedafterthe revelations made by one of his associates, who was apprehended a few days ago. It has once again been proven that the TMC is deeply miredincorruption”.

TakingtoX, formerly, Twitter, leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari said, “Henceforth, the state cabinet meeting will be convened inside the jail.”Inthe past one year, two other MLAs and TMC Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal have beenarrestedinconnection with school jobscamsand cattle smugglingcasesby central agencies.

(Published 27 October 2023, 12:12 IST)

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