Former Odisha Cricket Official Ashirbad Behera, Hotelier Arrested by CBI in Chit Fund Scam, Jailed
Behera and hotelier Kamalakanta Das, who was arrested along with him, were sent to jail after a special CBI court in Bhubaneswar rejected their bail petitions, which the duo had filed on health grounds.
File photo of Former OCA secretary Ashirbad Behera
Bhubaneswar: Nine days before Orissa Cricket Association’s (OCA) scheduled elections, the sports body’s controversial former honorary secretary, Ashirbad Behera, was on Thursday arrested by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with his alleged involvement in the state’s multi-crore-rupees chit fund scam.
Behera, 74, and hotelier Kamalakanta Das, who was arrested along with him, were sent to jail after a special CBI court in Bhubaneswar rejected their bail petitions, which the duo had filed on health grounds. The court remanded them to judicial custody till October 1. They were lodged in Jharpada Central Jail in Bhubaneswar.
Das, who owns Hotel Solan Inn in Bhubaneswar, and businessman Sambit Khuntia were named along with Behera as accused in the case, which pertains to OCA allegedly entering into a dubious business transaction with discredited chit fund company Artha Tatwa (AT) Group in 2011. The company is under CBI probe since 2014 for cheating thousands of ordinary people in Odisha who had deposited their money in its funds-multiplier schemes.
Khuntia was arrested by CBI in 2014. Behera was interrogated by CBI officials both in 2014 and 2016 in connection with his alleged involvement in the chit fund scam, but was not arrested. Das was neither interrogated not arrested so far.
OCA had allegedly received Rs 1 crore from the AT Group to sponsor the Odisha Ranji cricket team and also for the title sponsorship of Odisha Premier League (OPL) in 2011.
A supplementary charge-sheet that CBI filed in the case on August 29 says that OCA, under Ashirbad Behera’s stewardship, had promoted the AT Group as part of a criminal comspiracy to raise the company’s credibility in the eyes of the common people so that more and more people would invest in the company’s schemes.
“The arrests were made on the basis of a non-bailable warrant issued by a CBI court where Behera and the others are facing charges,” said CBI SP Jay Narayan Rana to reporters, declining to elaborate on the case and the accusations.
CBI sleuths reached Behera’s house in Cuttack in the morning and arrested him. He was brought to the CBI office in Bhubaneswar, where he and Das were grilled by the investigators for about two hours before being presented at a CBI special court.
Kamalakant Das had allegedly entered into dubious land deals with AT Group owner Pradeep Sethy, who had given him power of attorney for 2.5 acres of land in Balasore and 8.5 acres in Bhubaneswar. Das had then sold these two plots for about Rs 1.10 crore.
Behera had earlier claimed that the Rs 1 crore OCA had received from the AT Group was spent “in a transparent manner”. While Rs 75 lakh was spent in hiring Australian cricketer Michael Bevan as the coach for the Odisha Ranji team, the rest Rs 25 lakh was spent in organizing Odisha Premier League (OPL), he had said in 2016.
After a 16-year-long reign in Odisha cricket as the secretary of Odisha Cricket Association (OCA), Behera had stepped down from the post in 2016 for being above the age of 70. The Supreme Court-appointed Justice Lodha Committee had recommended that the age of office bearers of cricket bodies must be limited to 70.
“This arrest is nothing other than a pressure tactic on us days before the elections for OCA. We will not be bowed down by such tactics. We have full faith in the judiciary,” said Behera’s son, Sanjay Behera, who is reportedly eyeing the post of secretary of OCA in the elections scheduled to be held on September 28.
CBI had first registered a case against Behera in June 2017 after raiding his residence and the OCA office in connection with allegations that he colluded with the AT Group, which is one of 44 chit fund companies in the state being probed by CBI since 2014. The AT Group had collected nearly Rs 500 crore from small investors through attractive schemes that promised returns as high as 15 to 20 per cent of the deposits.
Behera was also charged under PMLA by Enforcement Directorate (ED) in December 2017 for encroaching a prime plot of government land near Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium and using it for his personal business interests. The ED case has Behera’s son Sanjay Behera as an accused as his firm had built a wedding ceremony mandap and ran several business units on the encroached land.
CBI is also probing a case pertaining to OCA allowing 36 junior cricketers whose birth certificates were forged to facilitate their participation in under-19 cricket matches.
Meanwhile, Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Opposition Congress accused CBI of failing to be impartial and not being sincere in probing the state’s chit fund scam. BJP said
“There are questions galore on CBI’s impartiality. The agency is often being used for political purposes. The law will take its own course. Just because CBI is conducting an inquiry does not mean one is guilty,” said BJD legislator Rohit Pujari.
State Congress president Niranjan Patnaik said: “They (CBI) sometimes make compromises and sometimes arrest people arbitrarily, as premeditated action and also for political purposes. CBI has so far not acted in the chit fund scam as per the people’s expectations. Many influential people are involved in this scam. CBI’s tentacles had even reached the chief minister’s private secretary”.
“CBI must have gathered irrefutable evidence against the accused, on whose basis it has made the arrests,” said state BJP general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan.
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