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Narada News sting: SC upholds Calcutta HC verdict ordering CBI probe

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-03-2017 Apurva Vishwanath

New Delhi/Kolkata: The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Calcutta high court verdict ordering a federal investigation into a TV sting operation that showed top leaders of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) receiving cash, dealing a setback to West Bengal’s ruling party.

“We find no infirmity in the findings of the high court,” an apex court bench comprising chief justice J.S. Khehar, and justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul said in its order.

While dismissing the state’s appeal against the high court order on Tuesday, the apex court reprimanded the West Bengal government for calling the Calcutta high court verdict biased. A lawyer appearing on behalf of West Bengal withdrew the statements and offered an unconditional apology.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could probe at least 14 key TMC leaders, who include members of Parliament (MPs) and West Bengal cabinet ministers. The Supreme Court gave the CBI a month to conclude its preliminary investigation, extending the 72-hour deadline set by the high court.

ALSO READ: Calcutta HC asks CBI to probe sting operation by Narada News

TMC leaders such as MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Pal are already under CBI detention because they allegedly helped Ponzi scheme operators to ply their trade in West Bengal and other eastern Indian states.

After Mamata Banerjee took office as the chief minister last year, she ordered a probe into the Narada News sting operation by the Kolkata police.

Mathew Samuel, the journalist behind Narada News who conducted the sting operation, said on Friday that the police “harassed” him and his people until the police investigation was stopped by the Calcutta high court. The division bench’s verdict, which described the local police as “a puppet on a string”, was a “big relief”, Samuel added.

The Calcutta high court asked the CBI to collect all documents and tapes related to the case and start an inquiry within 24 hours. The agency has complied with the order: it has collected the evidence examined by the court and started an investigation, its spokesperson said on Monday.

The video footage in question has been examined by two forensic laboratories and found to be genuine, the Calcutta high court said in its judgement. Also, judge Nishita Mhatre concluded that a “cognisable offence... of serious” nature appears to have been committed by people in key positions.

Two police officers in Kolkata, who have previously served in the CBI, said the case is straightforward unlike the agency’s probe into the Ponzi scheme. The principal evidence in this case has already been vetted by two forensic laboratories under a court order, and there are no paper trails to chase, said these officers, asking not to be identified. Apart from going after the politicians, CBI is likely to dig into Narada News’ funding, they added.

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