Kolkata: The first Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader to face questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Narada News sting operation case has admitted to receiving money, but claimed it was a donation for an embattled football club, according to key officials.
Iqbal Ahmed, a legislator and Kolkata’s deputy mayor, has told investigators that he received Rs10 lakh from Mathew Samuel—who conducted the sting operation in 2014 as a journalist with Tehelka magazine—as a donation for the Mohammedan Sporting Club.
Ahmed made the revelation last week when he faced eight hours of questioning, said two CBI officials, who asked not to be named. The agency asked him to produce on 16 June documentary evidence to prove that the money was indeed taken as a donation, but he took ill and had to be admitted to a hospital.
He looked unwell when he turned up for questioning on 15 June, said the officials cited above. Ahmed is a key figure in the investigation because it appears that the sting operation started with him, and he led Samuel to other top leaders of the TMC, the officials added.
“I am neither denying nor confirming what you are saying," said Danish Haque, Ahmed’s lawyer, adding that his client is cooperating with the agency. He will present himself for further questioning by the CBI and any other agency as soon as he is discharged from hospital, he said.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which investigates foreign exchange violations and money laundering, is working closely with the CBI in the investigation into the allegation that a section of TMC leaders were “habitual receivers" of illegal gratification.
The ED will seek explanations from the Mohammedan Sporting Club, said an official of the agency, who too asked not to be identified. “We are closely following the CBI’s investigation," the official added.
“A lot of donations were collected in 2014 because that year he had fielded a team in the I-League (tournament)," said Sultan Ahmed, president of the Mohammedan Sporting Club. He is Iqbal Ahmed’s brother and one of 13 TMC accused of taking money from Narada News.
Asked if Samuel had contributed to the club and if his brother had collected the donation, Sultan Ahmed, a Lok Sabha MP, said all donations were accounted for, but couldn’t immediately recall issuing a receipt to Samuel or his company. “I will be able to confirm only after consulting my brother, who is currently in hospital," he added.
The CBI has expanded the scope of the investigation into the sting operation and brought charges against TMC leaders under the Prevention of Corruption Act and various sections of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly taking illegal gratification and building assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.
The Narada News operation, which according to Samuel was conducted with funding from TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP, K.D. Singh, showed several leaders of the party being given wads of cash.
Samuel had said in an interview that he targeted the TMC because many of its key leaders were at that time facing investigation for allegedly helping deposit-taking companies run Ponzi schemes.