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ED searches at multiple places in Bengal over 'embezzlement' of MGNREGA funds

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Kolkata, Feb 6 (PTI) The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday carried out simultaneous searches at multiple places in West Bengal, including residences of some state officers, in connection with its investigation into alleged embezzlement of MGNREGA funds, officials said.

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The ruling Trinamool Congress denounced the searches as "vendetta politics" and a "desperate manoeuvre" by the BJP to divert attention from the TMC's ongoing dharna demanding clearance of the state's dues, while the saffron party asserted that central agencies such as the ED act independently but it welcomes the action.

The ED was conducting searches at the residence of a West Bengal Civil Services (WBCS) officer in Salt Lake's IA Block. He was earlier posted as a block development officer in Dhaniakhali in Hooghly district, they said.

An ED officer said that he was not in his residence when they reached. "We are trying to locate him," he said.

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Searches were also underway at the government accommodation of a WBCS officer in Jhargram district, officials said.

Besides the searches, he was being questioned by officers of the agency, they said.

Searches were also being conducted at a property linked to a state government employee in Baharampur in Murshidabad district. He was posted with the Panchayat Department, they added.

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"An amount of Rs 4.5 crore was detected in his sister's account. The money is suspected to be from MGNREGA funds," an officer said.

The searches were being conducted after evidence of their involvement was found in the "irregularities", he claimed.

The alleged irregularities relate to about 25 lakh "fake" job cards issued under MGNREGA in the state, officials said.

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Reacting to the searches, senior TMC leader Shashi Panja asserted, "This is an attempt to divert public and media's attention from the TMC's ongoing dharna demanding clearance of state's dues. This is a clear example of vendetta politics." However, the West Bengal BJP dismissed these allegations as "baseless".

BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya stated, "The reality is that the TMC is deeply mired in corruption, with nearly every leader facing corruption allegations." Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari told reporters, "The ED intervention took place after the state police failed to file a single charge-sheet on more than 100 FIRs registered against some district officials and panchayat members over the issuance of fake job cards. Now, the net has been widely cast to book every wrongdoer." "To our knowledge, a large number of BDOs, MGNREGA supervisors and TMC panchayat members are involved," the BJP MLA of Nandigram alleged.

To the TMC's allegation that the raids were "engineered" by Adhikari, he said, "I echo what the PM had said yesterday... central agencies such as the ED work independently. They took up the investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. We don't have any control over it but we want all thieves to be punished." Senior TMC leaders Partha Chatterjee, Jyotipriyo Mallick and Anubrata Mondal have been arrested by the central agencies in various corruption cases.

Recently, the central agencies have also conducted searches at various locations, including the residences of Food and Supplies Minister Rathin Ghosh and Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, in connection with recruitment in municipalities.

The TMC is staging a dharna near the statue of Dr BR Ambedkar in the Red Road area of central Kolkata to press for its demand for immediate clearance of West Bengal's dues by the Centre. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took part in the sit-in on February 2 and 3, while other party members will continue it till February 13. PTI SCH PNT SUS SOM ACD

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