Land, Fish, Fear: Probe Agency On How Shahjahan Built Sandeshkhali Empire

The chargesheet adds that Shahjahan collected on the purchase of every piece of land in the area and also used his influence to control government tenders in the area

Land, Fish, Fear: Probe Agency On How Shahjahan Built Sandeshkhali Empire

Sheikh Shahjahan was arrested in February after he was on the run for over a month

New Delhi:

Sandeshkhali strongman Sheikh Shahjahan, the man at the centre of allegations that evolved into the biggest talking point in West Bengal this election, allegedly used an intricate web of dummy traders, numerous properties and multiple bank accounts to turn black money into white, the probe by Enforcement Directorate has found.

The central agency has filed a prosecution complaint before a special court in Kolkata under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. "ED initiated investigation on the basis of 13 FIRs registered by West Bengal Police under various sections of IPC Act, 1860 and Arms Act, 1959 against Sahajhan Sheikh and others on the allegations that they have created an atmosphere of terror by indulging in organized crime of giving threats of injury, murder, attempt to murder, extortion etc. and also grabbed land of general public and obtained illegal monetary gains/benefits," ED has said in a statement.

Shahjahan's Empire

The agency has said that its probe found that Shahjahan "created a criminal empire revolving around land grabbing, illegal fish farming/trading, grabbing brick fields, cartelization of contracts, collection of illegal taxes/levies, commission on land deals etc".

According to ED sources, the former Trinamool leader used political influence and armed goons to conduct his illegal businesses on the nondescript island in North 24 Parganas district. Four people have been arrested in the case -- Shahjahan, his brother Alamgir and the strongman's aides Shib Prasad Hazra and Didar Boksh Molla. Statements of 100-odd witnesses have been recorded; these include local farmers, tribals, fish traders, landowners and contractors working in the area.

The ED had earlier attached assets worth Rs 27 crore allegedly belonging to Shahjahan and others. Three SUVs belonging to the strongman -- Mahindra Thar, Jeep Compass and Mahindra Scorpio -- have been seized. "Out of the proceeds of crime of value Rs.261.41 Crore derived and obtained by said persons from criminal activities, as revealed during the course of investigation conducted under PMLA, 2002," the agency has said.

ED sources said the proceeds of crime include the strongman's earnings from fish depots, rent from 'Shahjahan market' and brick kilns. They also include government tenders received by Alamgir and Hazra due to Shahjahan's political influence.

A Strongman's Rise

ED sources also explained how the strongman, who was expelled by Trinamool soon after the allegations came to the fore, cleaned the black money made through illegal means. The agency has said in its chargesheet that back in 2009-2010, Shahjahan, then a CPM leader, grabbed fisheries of 60-70 bighas land and started business in the name of Sk Sabina Fisheries. He joined the Trinamool Congress in 2013 and become sub-pradhan in Agarhati gram panchayat on an invitation from then local Trinamool MP Haji Nurul Islam and with the backing of then minister Jyotipriya Mallick, the chargesheet says.

"On one hand, Sk Sahajhan helped people by offering a few free medical services, financial aid, and essential provisions. However, on the other hand, Sk Sahajhan employed over 100 goons who remained close to him and his residence. These goons would intimidate and extort individuals, compelling them to comply with Sk Sahajhan's orders. Those who resisted faced physical violence and threats of severe consequences," it says, adding, "these individuals were known to carry illegal firearms and were not hesitant to use excessive force". In the aftermath of his arrest by the ED in February, the Trinamool Congress suspended him for six years.

The Money Trail

Explaining how the money trail worked, the chargesheet says Shahjahan was harvesting fish on grabbed land. Also, all fish vendors in the area had been threatened that they will do business through Shahjahan's firm.

"Sk Sahajhan utilised his terror to obtain huge chunks of lands on lease from farmers/villagers in the name of his associates like Shib Prasad Hazra, Satyajyoti Sanyal etc. Further, the lease amount was paid by Sk Sahajhan from the Proceeds of Crime generated by him through grabbed land, threats, extortion etc. The fishes harvested on such grabbed and leased lands were disguised as supply of fish by said dummy traders, dummy arots to SK Sabina Fish Supplier. SK Sabina fish Suppliers supplied these fish to exporters and accordingly, funds were received in the accounts of SK Sabina Fish Supplier. These funds were then transferred by SK Sabina Fish Supplier to these dummy traders," the chargesheet says.

The money coming in was then withdrawn in cash and handed over back to Shahjahan, ED sources explained. The proceeds of crime were invested in buying more agricultural land and commercial buildings. These properties were often registered in the name of Shahjahan's aides or Sekh Sumaiya Hafiziya Trust, run by his brother. "Lands have been grabbed by Sk Sahajhan on nominal rates using threats and coercion and the same have been transferred in the name of Sk Sumaiya Hafiziya Trust," the chargesheet says.

A Cut In Every Deal

The chargesheet adds that Shahjahan collected on the purchase of every piece of land in the area and also used his influence to control government tenders in the area. It says Shahjahan and his aides, with the help of terror and political clout, "made a syndication in government tenders in Sandeshkhali and nearby areas".

"Most of the government tenders at Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad level in Sandeshkhali and nearby areas were applied and allotted to their syndicate and no other contractor was allowed to apply for tender without their consent," the chargesheet says.

"Sk Sahajhan with strong political backing and an army of goons employed various means to establish a reign of terror and illicitly acquired proceeds of crime by commission of schedule offences ie. threats, attempt to murder, murder, extortion, land grabbing etc," it adds.