Assam minister and BJP's important leader in the northeast Himanta Biswa Sarma said he was "pained" that the West Bengal chief minister whom he "respects a lot" was "dragging his name" in a scam without stating the "facts". He dismissed the charge made against him by Mamata Banerjee that there was "evidence" of his involvement in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam as "frivolous and baseless".
Mamata Banerjee, who is protesting in Kolkata to "save the constitution", released an old letter that the main accused in the Saradha scam Sudipta Sen had written to the CBI. The letter alleged that Mr Sarma took about Rs 3 crore from Sudipta Sen for his business in Assam.
Ms Banerjee claimed she had "enough evidence against the Assam deputy chief minister" and dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to get him arrested.
The Assam minister told NDTV that he was "only a witness" in the case and the CBI had already examined him.
"It's painful that Mamata Banerjee, whom I respect so much, is accusing me without considering the facts. The CBI had called me as a witness. I joined the investigation much before I joined the BJP. In fact, I had stayed with the Congress for at least three months after I was called for questioning. Even the CBI told the court that I was just a witness. So Mamata didi trying to drag me and my party into the Saradha's scam is very painful," Mr Sarma said in Guwahati today.
He clarified that he has nothing to with politics in Bengal, therefore, he does not understand why he is being "attacked" by the Trinamool chief. "Not fortunate enough like your police commissioner," Mr Sarma retorted.
The frivolous & baseless campaign by @MamataOfficial Didi against me is very painful. I am not fortunate enough like your Police Commissioner. I've joined the investigations and offered my full cooperation as a witness. And all this happened much much before I joined @BJP4India— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) February 5, 2019
The Congress' Assam unit has been alleging that the CBI had stopped the probing Mr Sarma after he joined the BJP in 2015.
In 2014, a year after Sudipta Sen wrote that letter, CBI teams, headed by senior officers from Delhi conducted searches at the homes of Himanta Biswa Sarma, former Transport Minister Anjan Dutta, former Assam police chief Shankar Baruah (who later committed suicide) and prominent singer-filmmaker Sadananda Gogoi.
The CBI teams also raided the office of TV channel News live, owned by Himanta Biswa Sarma's wife Riniki Bhuyan in Guwahati, and two other premises, including a biscuit factory, in western Assam's Dhubri town. The factory, set up by the Saradha group in 2010, was inaugurated by Mr Sarma.
However, when Mr Sarma was in the Congress, the BJP had accused him of corruption. On July 22, 2014, the BJP had released a booklet -- "Saga of Scams in Congress-ruled States" -- in which it called Mr Sarma as a "key suspect" in the alleged Guwahati water supply scam.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been dharna in the heart of Kolkata since Sunday evening protesting against the CBI questioning of the city police chief in the Rose Valley and Saradha Ponzi scams. The CBI team had come to question Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar after he allegedly ignored summons from the agency over the last two years.
The Saradha and Rose Valley scams rocked Bengal and many others adjoining states in east India in 2013. An official estimate says Saradha had mopped up about Rs 1200 crore through its chit funds, but some calculations put that the figure closer to Rs. 4000 crore. The company collapsed in April 2013.
The opposition alleges that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress had close links with Sudipta Sen, the Chairman of the chit fund group.
The Rose Valley scam was a bigger financial fraud than the Saradha scam and according to Enforcement Directorate estimates, more than Rs 15,000 crore was reportedly collected from depositors across India mainly from West Bengal, Assam and Bihar.
According to the probe agency, a portion of the money was also used to bribe politicians so that the scam can run smoothly.
Rajeev Kumar, a 1989-batch IPS officer, had headed a probe on Saradha and Rose Valley scams before the case was transferred to the CBI in 2014 on Supreme Court's orders. He has been under fire from the CBI over missing documents linked to the investigation.