The detective department of the Kolkata police is on the lookout for a Republic Bangla journalist who allegedly impersonated a CBI officer, kidnapped a businessman, and extorted Rs 15 lakh as ransom before releasing him.
The journalist, Avishek Sengupta, has worked at Republic Bangla as a principal correspondent since its launch earlier this year. He previously worked for TV channels like Onkar News, Bangla Bharat and Calcutta News. According to Republic, Sengupta was on probation.
Notably, Sengupta has been covering CBI as a “beat” for the past few years and frequented the Nizam Palace compound in Kolkata where the CBI office is located.
A senior officer of the Kolkata police said, on the condition of anonymity, that on May 24, a businesswoman named Sweety Nath Ray had lodged a complaint at Kasba police station. Sweety alleged that her husband, Ajit Kumar Ray, had been taken to an undisclosed location by people pretending to be CBI officers. She contacted the police after she received a phone call seeking ransom for her husband’s release.
“The demand for ransom started at Rs 2 crore,” said an officer of the police’s detective department. “Finally, the abductors settled for Rs 15 lakh. A family friend arranged for the money. Ajit Kumar Ray was later released after the miscreants got the cash.”
Kasba police station transferred the case to the detective department. It’s unclear whether the police were alerted before or after the ransom was paid.
A senior police officer told this reporter that Sengupta had introduced himself to the Rays as a deputy inspector general of the CBI. He had also “threatened” Ajit. A preliminary investigation revealed that Ajit was picked up from his home in Kasba, taken for a “tour” of the Nizam Palace compound, and then taken to an undisclosed location.
The police filed a case under penal sections including impersonating a public servant, kidnapping, extortion, and criminal conspiracy.
By the evening of May 26, three people were arrested in connection with the case, according to Murli Dhar, the joint commissioner (crime) of the Kolkata police. Dhar said the police were looking out for more accused persons.
“CCTV footage of various places has been collected,” Dhar said. “Raids for the absconding accused persons are going on.”
The three people arrested are Rajesh Adhikary, the driver of the car used for the abduction, and Swarup Roy and Pratik Sarkar. Roy and Sarkar are allegedly Sengupta’s accomplices.
Meanwhile, Republic Bangla issued a statement this afternoon saying they had decided to suspend Sengupta, who is under probation.
“On Tuesday evening, it was brought to our notice that Abhishek Sengupta faces serious allegations of impersonating a public servant, impersonation of central investigating agency officials, and fabrication of identity and kidnapping,” the statement said. “As an organisation with zero tolerance towards such abhorrent criminal acts, the said probationer was immediately suspended on Tuesday evening pending a thorough probe in the matter.”
The statement continued: “The formal communication regarding his suspension has been sent via email to Avishek Sengupta, after repeated attempts to contact him.” It added that Sengupta remained unreachable on his phones and his whereabouts were not known to the company.
Mayukh Ranjan Ghosh, Republic Bangla’s lead anchor and “input editor”, told this reporter that he had no knowledge of what had happened beyond what has already been written in the channel’s statement.
Journalists in Kolkata who know Sengupta said he covered CBI as a beat from 2016-17. He left Onkar News in 2017-18 and joined Pratyahik Sambad, a print daily. From there he moved on to Calcutta News, then to news channel Bangla Bharat, and finally joined Republic Bangla.
A senior employee at Calcutta News said Sengupta had been asked to resign after the channels had received “allegations of extortion” against Sengupta from multiple sources.
An employee at Bangla Bharat said Sengupta loved flaunting his “connections” with CBI officials. However, a CBI officer, who spoke to this reporter on the condition of anonymity, said that Sengupta was rarely entertained by CBI sleuths in Kolkata.
The CBI has been an important reporting beat in West Bengal ever since the agency took charge of the investigation into the chit fund scam in 2014. At the time, the CBI interrogated and arrested a number of businessmen and Trinamool Congress leaders. It has also been investigating the high-profile since 2017.
This reporter reached out to Republic TV editor in chief Arnab Goswami for comment on the charges against Sengupta. This report will be updated if he responds. Sengupta’s phone numbers remained switched off until the time of filing this report.
Update on May 27
The police on Thursday arrested Sengupta from Siliguri in north Bengal along with another of his alleged accomplices, Swarup Ghosh, who is also a resident of Kolkata.
"They were produced before a court in Siliguri which granted transit remand till May 29," said a senior officer of the Kolkata police.