- Abhishek Banerjee said his wife had gone to Thailand for medical reasons
- He denied media reports about Customs finding 2 kg gold in her possession
- Both Trinamool and BJP held press meets to exchange political allegations
Reports of two kilos of gold allegedly seized by the Customs Department from the wife of Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee on Sunday led to two separate press meets that painted completely contradictory pictures of what happened and hit a new low in politics.
Abhishek Banerjee claimed that his wife was not even carrying two grams of gold when she flew into Kolkata on the intervening night of March 15 and 16 from Thailand. "I will leave politics if anyone can prove she had any dutiable gold or goods on her," he said. "Also, see if you can prove if she had sought and was given any VIP treatment at the airport."
The Trinamool leader said his wife had gone to Thailand for medical treatment. "After 75 minutes of harassment by the customs, she spoke to my assistant who made some phone calls. A lady police officer came to help my wife in case she fell ill during the incident," he added.
Rujira Banerjee has claimed in an FIR that customs official harassed her, and demanded Rs 50,000.
Abhishek Banerjee said that his wife was targeted because she was connected to a political family. "They are attacking my family because they cannot fight me politically," he added.
At a press conference held earlier, BJP parliamentarian Swapan Dasgupta and former Trinamool leader Mukul Roy raised questions about the Thai passport belonging to Mrs Banerjee and wondered if she held two such documents - which is illegal. However, Abhishek Banerjee said that as his wife is a Thai national born and brought up in that country and holds a Person of Indian Origin card, there is nothing illegal about it.
Initial reports aired by some news portals about 2 kg gold being seized from her were not mentioned at the BJP press meet. There was no mention of any such seizure in the complaint filed by the Customs Department either.
Why did it take customs officials a whole week to file its complaint? There was no clear answer to that. But the customs complaint was drafted by top brass and sent to the officer in Kolkata to file. Manish Chandra, the Customs Commissioner in Kolkata, says so in the cover letter he sent to his assistant commissioner at the Kolkata airport with the draft of the complaint to be filed.
The letter is also marked "secret".
"This is as per CBIC department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, New Delhi," Mr Chandra wrote.
The CBIC is the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs. Why the Ministry of Finance should be interested in this case, where there has been no seizure of illegal gold or cash is not clear.
At the BJP press meet, party leaders tried to make a case for a confrontation between the West Bengal police and the customs department like the confrontation between the Kolkata police and the CBI in February - when the probe agency wanted to question then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar.
The BJP leaders also claimed that the West Bengal police had redefined the standard operating procedure or protocol for handling state VIPs and asked the Customs Department to follow it. When asked if the BJP would take the matter to court or the election commission, the leaders said they may consider that line of action.