Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has disclosed that the state’s transport minister Madan Mitra had resigned ahead of his arrest on Friday by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged links with the defunct Saradha Group, an indication that he saw it coming.

His resignation will not be accepted, Banerjee said, adding that the arrest was illegal.

Mitra was taken into custody on Friday after about four hours of questioning. CBI officials said the agency arrested him on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation of funds from the Saradha Group, the most serious charges that could be levelled against him. The officials declined to be identified.

Mitra is the first West Bengal minister and the third key leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress party—after Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose, both members of the Rajya Sabha—to have been arrested for alleged links with the Saradha Group. Ghosh has been expelled from the party since his arrest a little over a year ago.

The Saradha Group, which until early last year operated Ponzi schemes in eastern India, ran aground after its chairman Sudipta Sen was arrested by state police in April 2013 for cheating millions of depositors of an estimated 2,500 crore. The investigation has since been taken over by CBI under an order of the Supreme Court earlier this year.

The Enforcement Directorate, another federal agency that probes foreign exchange violations and money laundering, is assisting CBI in the investigation.

The apex court ordered the central agencies to dig out where the money collected by the group went as well as investigate the larger conspiracy behind the scam.

Banerjee strongly defended Mitra on Friday, saying that his arrest is a “conspiracy…to bulldoze democratic institutions" and that he will not be removed as transport minister. CBI, she said, is a pawn without a will acting as directed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the government in New Delhi. To combat the “political vendetta" of the “communal" BJP, she gave a call to all opposition parties to unite against its “divisive" politics.

Subrata Mukherjee, another West Bengal minister, said Mitra’s arrest was “politically motivated" and “pre-meditated", evident from the fact that CBI decided to arrest him only after a few hours of questioning, whereas the other political leaders were taken into custody only after days of questioning.

To be sure, Mitra has been avoiding the questioning for weeks, citing health issues while he went from one hospital to another complaining of various complications.

The stakes are high for Mitra, who has been one of the early birds to join the Trinamool Congress when Banerjee broke away from the Congress to launch her own party in 1998. He also held a key position at the Saradha Group. One of the CBI officials cited above said the agency was suspicious that he had exploited it even for personal benefits, not just to expand his populist political activities.

It is widely known that Mitra led the workers’ union at the Saradha Group, the association of its so-called field agents, who collected money from rural households, according to CBI officers. He would often turn up at events organized to bring together the field agents and speak effusively about Sen’s enterprises, they said.

The agency clearly sees Mitra as having thrown his weight behind the Saradha Group to ply its business. But Banerjee said he was only a victim of a political conspiracy, and taking the fight to New Delhi, she dared the Union government to arrest her as well.

On Friday, CBI also arrested Naresh Bhalotia, an erstwhile legal adviser to the Saradha Group.

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