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Man in Mamata Banerjee’s Bangladesh Entourage Arrested, Freed on Bail

Entrepreneur and film producer Shibaji Panja, who accompanied Mamata Banerjee on her Bangladesh visit, was Sunday arrested at the Kolkata airport in connection with a fraud case. The opposition slammed the West Bengal chief minister, saying she dishonoured the country by allowing a “criminal” to be part of her entourage.

Panja, who was booked for cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy, was subsequently granted bail by a court.

While Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee tried to distance herself, the opposition accused her of dishonouring the country by allowing a “criminal” to be part of her entourage.

Panja was detained Saturday upon his arrival at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose international airport. The airport police subsequently arrested him Sunday.

“A lookout notice was issued by Delhi Police against Panja. In pursuance of that, we arrested him. The Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police has initiated a case against him,” said an airport police officer.

Delhi Police had issued the lookout notice against Panja Feb 19, the very day he left for Dhaka along with Banerjee and other delegation members.

Police during the day presented him before a court which granted him bail.

“Delhi Police have registered a case against Panja under several charges including forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy. He was presented before a court which granted him bail. He has been released by police,” Panja’s counsel Rajdeep Majumdar said.

Panja, who co-produced Bengali movie “Byomkesh Bakshi”, is also a member of the Kolkata International Film Festival committee.

His arrest is turning out to be major embarrassment for the Trinamool Congress which is already cornered over the multi-crore-rupee Saradha chit fund scam.

Distancing herself from the incident, a seemingly peeved Banerjee said: “There can be a case against a businessman that is his matter. This is not related to me.”

The opposition parties pointed fingers at Banerjee and her party.

“He is an important member of the chief minister’s kitchen cabinet and is said to be entrusted with raising funds for the Trinamool. He was there during her Singapore trip and he also went to Bangladesh,” BJP national secretary Siddharth Nath Singh said.

“The chief minister is liable to answer what Panja was doing by accompanying her. Mamataji will have to elaborate about his involvement with the Trinamool,” said Singh, the party in-charge for Bengal.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Mohammad Salim demanded a thorough probe into Panja’s involvement with the Trinamool Congress.

“Much like the Trinamool was involved with Saradha chief Sudipta Sen, we believe Panja too has a similar involvement. We demand that the matter is properly investigated and is not hushed up,” said Salim.

CPI-M leader and former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya accused Banerjee of trying to shield Panja.

“It is unfathomable that the chief minister is unaware about her entourage. Without proper background checks, a person cannot be part of such high profile delegation. She intentionally took him along with a view to shielding him from the police,” said Bhattacharya.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury too attacked Banerjee.

“When she is going to Bangladesh, she is not only the chief minister of Bengal but she is representing the entire country. By carrying a criminal with her, she has dishonoured not only Bengal but the entire country,” said Chowdhury.

Congress leader Abdul Mannan accused Banerjee of conspiring to malign the country and called upon the central government to initiate legal action her.

“This is a conspiracy by the chief minister… she knowingly took Panja with her to shield him from police action. She has conspired against the country. The Centre should initiate legal action against her,” said Mannan.

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