Kolkata: Rujira Naroola, the wife of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamool Congress’ Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee, was Sunday served notice to join a probe into a ‘coal theft’/illegal mining and transportation case by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The CBI’s notice, delivered Sunday to Rujira and Abhishek Banerjee’s Kolkata residence, which stands just a couple of kilometres from CM Mamata’s residence, said she is “acquainted with the circumstances” of the ‘coal theft’ case.
Top CBI officials claimed that Naroola had been receiving “protection money” from the prime accused Anup Lala alias Anup Maji and others in the ‘coal theft’ case, which was initiated in November last year. The money that the accused persons sent to Naroola was in Indian as well as foreign currency, according to a senior CBI officer probing the case.
Another senior CBI official, on the condition of anonymity said, “Anup Maji aka Lala, the prime accused of the coal smuggling case has claimed during the investigation that he had transferred huge amount of money periodically to Madam Naroola. He called it protection money. We need to know how she is linked to them and that is why we have sent a notice to join the probe today.”
The officer added: “Apart from Maji, she also received money from Vinay Mishra, another accused, and four others. We have evidence, based on which we have sent a notice to her for examination.”
But this is not the first time her name has cropped up in a case — Naroola, who is extremely private and rarely makes any public appearances, was accused of obstructing a Customs officer at Kolkata airport in March 2019.
According to a Calcutta High Court order granting her relief from the Customs notice in April 2019, Rujira is a Thai national and holds an Overseas Citizen of India card, and Customs authorities became suspicious of her and wanted to check her baggage. Customs claimed, citing a baggage X-ray, that she was carrying a “significant quantity of gold”. The case is still sub-judice.
Who is Rujira Naroola?
Rujira Naroola comes from a Delhi/NCR-based business family. She met Abhishek Banerjee while he was in college, and they were married in February 2012 after a long courtship, said a senior Trinamool leader close to the Banerjees who did not want to be named.
“She is a simple girl who leads an absolutely private life and does not appear much in public programmes. We saw her during some family programmes like their child’s birthday and other occasions. They generally host very lavish birthday parties for the kids. In fact, their marriage ceremony was also organised in a lavish way in Delhi,” the leader said.
“Theirs was a love marriage. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) initially had some reservations and resisted Abhishek’s decision, but later on, she agreed. We have seen Didi and Rujira behaving with each other in a cordial manner,” the leader added.
However, of late, her name has cropped up in several rallies by BJP leaders, who have also accused her husband of being a beneficiary of Mamata Banerjee’s nepotism.
Former Trinamool minister Suvendu Adhikari, who joined the BJP two months ago, mentioned “Madam Naroola” as the “recipient of money” from the accused in the coal theft case. He showed a receipt to the public and said a “huge amount of money” was transferred to her offshore account.
According to Abhishek Banerjee’s affidavit filed before the Election Commission in 2019, Rujira Naroola is ‘salaried’, though there are no details of service given.
The affidavit mentions that Naroola has Rs 5,01,644.48 as deposits in her bank account; Rs 87,300 cash, gold jewellery worth Rs 22 lakh and paintings worth Rs 3 lakh. In 2019, before the elections, she had total assets worth Rs 35.55 lakh.
The Customs case
Rujira Naroola’s name first hit the headlines in connection with a case filed against her by the Customs department in March 2019.
She was issued a notice under Section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962, to appear in person before the Additional/Joint Commissioner of Customs on 8 April 2019 at Custom House, 15/1, Strand Road, Kolkata. Abhishek Banerjee had then claimed the case was “politically motivated”.
However, on 8 April 2019, a division bench of Justice I.P. Mukerji and Mohammad Nizamuddin, while observing that the case was “like those in a thrilling novel”, ruled in Rujira’s favour, saying she would not appear before Customs till 31 July.
“She was asked to appear in connection to the offence under Section 133 of the Customs Act, 1962, which is obstruction of officer of the customs at NSCBI Airport, Kolkata, on 16 March 2019. She arrived in Kolkata from Thailand,” the court noted.
“The appellant arrived in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, on the intervening night between 15th March 2019 and 16th March 2019 by a Thai Airways flight. She is a Thai national and holds an Overseas Citizen of India card. She says she ‘permanently’ resides in a premises on Harish Mukherjee Road in this city,” the court said, citing the Customs’ complaint.
“The Customs authorities became suspicious of her and had wanted to check her baggage. According to them she resented this, (as) her baggage was checked by the X-ray machine,” the court said, adding that Customs claimed that the “X-ray report revealed that she was carrying a significant quantity of gold”.
The complaint mentioned that Customs wanted to open her luggage; she resisted and used her influence to call the airport police, which comes under the West Bengal police department, and managed to leave the airport.
The court ruled in Rujira’s favour on the issue of the notice as it observed that the Customs department had taken a lot of time to file the FIR.
However, only the notice was quashed, not the case — its last hearing took place December 2020.