BHUBANESWAR: In a major embarrassment to the scam-tainted Naveen Patnaik Government, Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s Banki MLA Pravat Tripathy was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged links with Artha Tatwa (AT) Group in the multi-hundred crore chit fund scam.
Tripathy, who became the first ruling party leader to be formally charged and held in the Ponzi scam, has immediately been suspended from the party.
Chief Information Officer of the probe agency Kanchan Prasad told this paper over phone that Tripathy is accused of receiving huge sums of money from the AT Group apart from criminal conspiracy in the deposits scam.
Earlier, the senior BJD leader arrived at the CBI office at about 4.45 pm - for the fourth time since he came under the scanner for his alleged links in the Ponzi scam. He was grilled for about two hours before being taken into custody.
With the Orissa High Court rejecting his anticipatory bail application on October 20, the former Government Chief Whip had been rendered defenseless. Although he was quizzed once more on October 25, his arrest was imminent.
What acted as prima facie evidence against Tripathy was the forensic test of his voice which matched with the one in the tape in which he was in a conversation with AT group chief Pradeep Sethi seeking funds for the Banki Mahotsav.
Besides, his role as president of Odisha State Cooperative Union (OSCU) during which Sethi was awarded the Best Youth Cooperator Award in 2010 also went against his claims of innocence.
The four-time MLA’s name in the chit fund scam cropped up last year when the Ponzi scam surfaced and the audio tape went viral. Tripathy himself had strongly defended his party stating that none from BJD had anything to do with the scam though the Opposition accused Tripathy and two others - currently ministers - of nexus with the AT Group chief in the massive deposit irregularities.
Interestingly, the Commissionerate of Police which was probing into the AT Group scam, before CBI and ED were entrusted with the investigation vide a Supreme Court order, had found no complicity of Tripathy. The senior ruling party legislator was not even quizzed by the City Police in this connection.
After taking over the probe, on August 17, the CBI cracked down on Tripathy’s residential premises at Cuttack and Banki before going after his associates which included Subash Padhi, chit fund company Swastik India's chief Ranjan Das and a BJD leader Ashish Sahu. Das has already been arrested.
With the CBI tightening its noose, Tripathy had moved the HC for anticipatory bail on September 10 and six days later, he was subjected to a marathon interrogation. While the HC gave him interim protection till October second week, luck deserted Tripathy once his bail plea was turned down.
He is slated to be produced before a CBI court on Saturday after medical examination. The probe agency is likely to seek his remand.