New firm, zero assets: How Mamata aide acquired Times Group’s Bengal paper

Sanjay Basu represents Mamata Banerjee as well as her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in cases.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
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The Times Group had launched Ei Samay – its flagship Bengal daily with an average current circulation of around 1.7 lakh copies – in 2012. But last week, it was taken over by a company that was barely a month old. And the face of the acquisition was West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s close aide and Kolkata-based lawyer Sanjay Basu.

A day after the acquisition, Basu put up a statement on LinkedIn, stating that he along with Anurag Choudhary of Himadri Speciality Chemical Ltd had acquired the daily. “We few have come together to acquire the Ei Samay newspaper and digital IPs today,” he said.

It’s a curious story of those “few”. The group that acquired the daily wasn’t just a month old, but also had zero assets days before the takeover.

Tidings Media and Communication Private Ltd had zero balance in its accounts until May 9, when it received Rs 1,00,000. A week later, it had received Rs 18 crore in investments through unsecured compulsory convertible debentures.

But who is Sanjay Basu?

Basu  is considered a close aide of Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee. He is not only the standing counsel of the West Bengal government but also legal counsel for both Mamata and Abhishek.  

In March 2023, Basu had also made headlines after he was raided by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with an alleged Ponzi scam. According to ED’s press release, he was searched in connection with a money laundering probe against two chit fund companies, Pincon Group and Tower Infotech Ltd, for allegedly misappropriating Rs 156 crore and Rs 638 crore, respectively, collected from investors.   

CM Banerjee had held a press conference, condemning the raid as a “political vendetta” and claiming that ED officials found nothing at Basu's residence. Banerjee had said that apart from being a government counsel, Basu is also her lawyer and in possession of many government documents. Notably, Basu also represents Abhishek Banerjee in ongoing ED and CBI cases.

“I asked Sanjay, what things did ED take away? What did they get from there? Sanjay said, ED did not get anything from the house. They were just asking about you,” Banerjee had said. 

A curious acquisition

At the time of acquiring the newspaper, Tidings Media and Communication Pvt Ltd was just a month old. 

The corporate filings of the company show it has two directors, Gautam Agarwala and Amit Agarwalla. They run a warehouse business named Frontier Warehouse, and the address of Tidings Media and Communication Pvt Ltd is also the same as Frontier Warehouse – in East India House in Kolkata’s Esplanade. 

Tidings had zero balance in its bank account until May 9, when Rs 1,00,000 was deposited in its account through mobile bank transfers in two tranches of Rs 50,000 each. 

A week later came the Rs 18 crore through CCDs – debt instruments that get converted into shares of the issuing company after a predefined period. Basu invested Rs 9.92 crore, the Himadri linked firm Rocket Marketing invested Rs 5.41 crore, and Gautam Agarwalla pumped in Rs 2.7 crore. These were zero interest CCDs.

Basu now holds about 54 percent of shareholding, while Rocket Marketing holds nearly 29 percent and Gautam Agarwalla around 14 percent in Tidings Media and Communication Pvt Limited.

‘Won’t change’ editorial position

Meanwhile, industry insiders told Newslaundry that the Times group had earlier tried to sell its newspaper to a Bengal media company, but it refused the offer.

“For almost a year, there had been indication that the Times group was not interested in running the paper. But the process of selling the newspaper started  in the last few months,” a former employee of the newspaper said.

Former employees told Newslaundry that the paper was functioning with half its staff since Covid.

A former employee said the Times group wanted to enter the vernacular daily market, but “they seem to have changed the plans following the division of business between the two brothers”.

Newslaundry has earlier reported on the ostensible impact of the conglomerate’s split between the Jain brothers on the company’s structure and employees.

The former staffers claimed Basu’s leadership will not impact the editorial position of the paper. “Things changed much after Covid…we all know newspapers now rely on the government for revenue.”

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