Tehelka, a news organisation noted for its undercover operations and investigative reporting, has Mathew Samuel as its managing editor. He played a key role in the West End sting operation, which culminated in the resignation of Defense Minister George Fernandes and the subsequent conviction of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Bangaru Laxman in 2001, resulting in a mini-democratic crisis.
In 2014, Tehelka executives said that a sting operation would enable them to “return to the market with a great narrative; with a boom.” Samuel and his friends considered visiting Madhya Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh, but neither option worked out. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was in control, and Samuel didn’t want to be perceived as a journalist who only criticised BJP administrations, while in Himachal Pradesh, the political atmosphere was too quiet for a sting operation.
Around this time, the Saradha Group financial scandal broke in West Bengal. Samuel thought that what had been revealed up to that time was just the “tip of the iceberg,” therefore the team decided to concentrate their efforts on West Bengal legislators.
The Saradha scam, also known as the financial scandal involving the Saradha Group, was a large-scale financial fraud that occurred in 2013.
An inquiry into the multibillion-dollar ponzi scheme has been continuing since then.
In the early 2000s, billionaire Sudipto Sen formed the Saradha Group (an umbrella corporation with 200 private players). The strategy, which was intended at modest investors, soon gained traction due to its promise of massive gains. The money was gathered through a huge network of agents who were given commissions of above 25%.The Saradha Group was able to raise Rs 2,500 crore in only a few years. The company employed a range of marketing methods to establish its brand. In addition to standard marketing methods like as celebrity endorsements, the firm used to fund cultural events such as Durga Puja and invest in major football clubs to attract new investors.
The project swiftly expanded throughout Odisha, Assam, and Tripura, garnering around 1.7 million investors.
What is narada case
The “Narada recordings” sting operation, which was captured in 2014 by the Narada news outlet and allegedly reveals TMC leaders receiving bribes on tape, is the subject of the complaint. After a two-year investigation, the sting was supposed to be publicised in Tehelka magazine. Journalist Matthew Samuel pretended to be a businessman wishing to invest in West Bengal, and offered cash as a bribe to twelve TMC politicians, including seven MPs, four ministers, and one MLA, as well as a police officer. He then quit Tehelka and founded his own TV channel in the state.
Mukul Roy (now with BJP), Subrata Mukherjee, Sultan Ahmed (passed away in 2017), Sugata Roy, Suvendu Adhikari (now with BJP), Kakoli Ghosh Dastikar, Prasoon Banerjee, Suvon Chatterjee, Madan Mitra, Iqbal Ahmed, and Firhad Hakim were among the TMC ministers and leaders who were allegedly recorded collecting bribes from the businessman on video. MH Ahmed Mirza, a senior police officer who claimed to be the party’s main fundraiser, was also spotted taking money. The arrests, according to Mathew Samuel, the mastermind behind the Narada sting operation that started it all, show some progress in the “long wait for justice,” but he was surprised by the CBI’s refusal to charge Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari “because the evidence against them is pretty much the same as the evidence against those who have been imprisoned.”
“Today’s arrests are only the tip of the iceberg,” he continued. The sting demonstrates just how crooked the administration is. It demonstrates how easy it is to bribe powerful individuals, regardless of their political stance. Even though I claimed to be a regular businessman, I was able to meet senior ministers, MLAs, and bureaucrats who were just interested in making a profit. In Suvendu Adhikari’s office, I paid him Rs. 5 lakh. This audio was also obtained by the CBI, and it was forensically verified to be correct. Mukul Roy, who refused to accept cash and suggested me to donate money to Mirza instead, was the first person I met (suspended IPS officer arrested in the Narada case in 2019). Mirza was given Rs 15 lakh by me, and taped conversations demonstrate that he utilised the money to assist Mukul Roy. I’m not sure why Roy and Adhikari’s names aren’t on the chargesheet or the Governor’s list of possible sanctions. To be honest, it’s incredible because you can’t arbitrarily arrest people based on the same evidence.”
While Samuel first claimed that K. D. Singh, a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP and the major proprietor of Tehelka, was unaware of the operation and was a “lone wolf,” he then retracted his remarks, claiming that Singh was fully aware of the operation and actively supported it. According to him, the operation’s budget was first established at $2,500,000 (equivalent to 2.8 million or US$40,000 in 2019 dollars), but it was later boosted to $8,000,000 (equivalent to 9.0 million or US$130,000 in 2019 dollars) due to a significant rise in the number of prospective targets.
The police subsequently filed a criminal complaint against Singh, claiming that the majority of the funds came from his West Bengal chit fund business. Singh, on the other hand, denied being a part of the sting operation.
Investigations and governmental repercussions
The sting operation during the 2016 assembly elections appears to have had little impact, contrary to Indian media predictions.
The AITC administration was re-elected with an absolute majority. Mamata Banerjee stated this in her victory speech after the elections as proof of the party’s integrity.
On June 17, 2016, the state took the initial legal steps by ordering a police probe in Kolkata.
The Indian Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) filed three public-interest cases in the Calcutta High Court shortly after, asking an impartial inquiry owing to the accused’s influential positions. The petitioner requested a federal inquiry, while the State of West Bengal and the accused wanted a state investigation team or a special investigation team.
Samuel was also accused of being heckled by local cops when he was arrested for allegedly running extortion rings and questioned about the sting. Samuel was charged with forgery to damage reputation, 500 (defamation), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The state investigation was placed on hold indefinitely by the High Judicial Judicial on August 5, 2016, claiming that the police could not launch a parallel probe while under court supervision. On March 18, 2017, the state accused S. M. H. Meerza, a high-ranking officer in the Indian Police Service, with misbehaviour. He was the lone person (out of everyone who was seen on tape receiving a cash bribe) who was subjected to state punishment.
The CBI is investigating.
The CBI was instructed to examine the incident when the court expressed concerns about the impartiality of the West Bengal Police investigation, and the recording was authenticated as authentic by the Central Forensic Laboratory. While the state opposed to the CBI conducting the probe, a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre eventually decided that the sting’s results were not jeopardised by Mathew Samuel’s legality, and that an independent probe would be undertaken.
The state’s plea was also denied by the Supreme Court of India, enabling the CBI probe to continue.
On April 17, 2017, the CBI filed a First Information Report against 12 Trinamool leaders for “criminal conspiracy.” The CBI subsequently summoned everyone involved in the case to assist in the probe. Aparupa Poddar admitted to collecting money in the sum of 3 lakh Indian rupees, although she denied having a hidden agenda. She also revealed that she worked on the advise of Iqbal Ahmed. Iqbal Ahmed agreed to take the money, but stated he would use it toward expanding Mohammedan S.C., a Maidan-based sports club (Kolkata). Subrata Mukherjee admits to accepting a payment of 3 lakh INR as well.
Sougata Ray dismissed the film as a forgery, claiming to have never met Samuel. [ S.M.H. Meerza first denied receiving any monies, but later acknowledged the tape’s truthfulness and claimed to have given the entire sum to an orphanage. Following that, the investigation hit a snag when it was discovered that certain segments of the tape (a prior to the) were missing from the provided material. Samuel said that while downloading the recording from his iPhone to his laptop, he edited out the superfluous bits and then lost the password for the iPhone folder holding the cut-out portions. The CBI subsequently contacted Apple Inc. to request the contents of the folder; though they declined to reveal the password owing to privacy concerns, they did confirm that the whole sting-video was shot on an iPhone. According to recent allegations, the CBI sought access by contacting professional hackers.
The Enforcement Directorate is conducting an investigation.
The Enforcement Directorate is conducting a separate investigation. It has filed a complaint under the Anti-Corruption Act. alleging misappropriation of public monies, and has issued several summonses to the defendants, including Samuel.
The Ethics Committee
Because members of Parliament were involved in the sting, a Lok Sabha ethics committee was constituted to look into whether the people involved broke any of the house’s rules. The committee only convened once after the event.
Author: Tanya Godre from NMIMS, Mumbai.