TT, Calcutta, April 17: The CBI today lodged an FIR against 12 Trinamul leaders and an IPS officer in the Narada pay-offs case, charging them with criminal conspiracy and offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The chief minister described the lodging of the FIR as a "political game" and promised to "fight it out politically". The move by the central agency comes exactly a month after Calcutta High Court directed it to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the case.
"Enquiry revealed prima facie material for registration of a Regular Case (FIR) under appropriate sections of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and IPC," the CBI said today in an official release.
Senior CBI officers said lodging the FIR was a significant step as the case involved several high profile leaders of the ruling party.
"Since nearly everyone involved in the case are public servants and are (allegedly) seen accepting money, the FIR hinged on sections under the Prevention of Corruption Act," a CBI officer said.
If proved, the charge invites a maximum term of five years in jail.
While a court would decide on the outcome of the case, CBI sources said the agency's decision to frame charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act meant the offence was cognisable and the investigating officer could arrest the accused without a warrant.
"We have followed some of the basic steps of investigation by lodging an FIR after a preliminary probe. There is a legal team and we would need its clearance for subsequent steps," a CBI officer said.
"Arrest is not mandatory though," he added.
The Narada case deals with tapes that show images resembling prominent Trinamul leaders accepting cash from a man posing as an agent of a company keen to set up projects in Bengal.
The alleged events on the tapes date back to the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 but the visuals had surfaced just before the Assembly elections last year, which Mamata Banerjee swept effortlessly. The election verdict was construed as a clean chit for those who feature on the Narada tapes.
Mamata today dubbed the lodging of the FIR a "political game".
"What does an FIR mean? Does it prove one is guilty? Let them prove it first. It's a political game and we will fight it out politically," Mamata said this evening while leaving Nabanna for the day.
The sources in the CBI said some of subsequent steps the central agency could follow include a detailed examination of the accused, witnesses and complainants and collecting their statements as laid down under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The CBI has already spoken to Mathew Samuel, the man behind the sting operation. He would be re-examined and his statement recorded, the sources said.
"I welcome the move. I have been saying that truth should prevail," Samuel said today.
Sources in the Trinamul office said senior leaders discussed the fallout of the development even as preparations were being made for Mamata's visit to Puri and Bhubaneswar tomorrow.
The chief minister is scheduled to meet in Bhubaneswar ailing Trinamul MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who is now in judicial custody following his arrest by the CBI in the Rose Valley defaults case.