Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court Friday ordered a preliminary inquiry by the CBI into the Narada sting operation in which several Trinamool Congress leaders were seen allegedly taking money.
A division bench comprising acting chief justice Nishita Mhatre and justice T Chakraborti directed the CBI to take possession of all material and devices related to the sting operation within 24 hours and to conclude the preliminary enquiry within another 72 hours.
The court directed the CBI to register FIR, if required, after completion of the preliminary inquiry and initiate formal investigation thereafter.
The Narada sting tapes, which were released to different news organizations before the 2016 Assembly elections in West Bengal, showed some leaders allegedly taking money.
The division bench noted that a report by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Chandigarh, had said that the tapes were untampered.
Mathew Samuel, editor of Narada News, had told the court that the recordings were done using an iPhone, which were transferred to a laptop and were then stored in a pendrive.
All these devices were taken possession of by a committee set up by the high court.
Passing the order, the court observed that conduct of public figures must be beyond reproach.
It said that given the persons against whom allegations have been made are ministers, MPs and other senior leaders from the state, it would be just to direct the CBI, and not a state agency, to conduct a preliminary inquiry.
The court also observed that CBI was the most suitable agency for conducting an independent probe into the matter.
Three petitions had been filed before the high court seeking independent probe into the sting tapes after examining the genuineness of the recordings.
The division bench also directed the state government to initiate disciplinary action against IPS officer S M H Mirza, who was allegedly seen in one of the tapes.
Concurring with the judgment, justice Chakraborti observed that corruption is a reprehensible crime and that it shakes the confidence of the people.
Adding to the judgment read by acting chief justice Mhatre, the brother judge observed that society at large has a stake in the investigation.
Samuel had told the high court that the tapes made in 2014 were released in March 2016.
Samuel's counsel had submitted before the court that though the sting was done in 2014, it could be released in public only in 2016 as K D Singh, a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP, had taken over the ownership of Tehelka.com, which allegedly assigned him to carry out the "sting operation" while it was under a previous management.
Ghosh had said that Singh had refused to release the videos and as such he had later taken those back from Tehelka.
Narada News was later formed of which Samuel is the editor. The sting videos were released in March, 2016.
Counsel for TMC leaders, including state Cabinet ministers Sovan Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee, Suvendu Adhikari, MPs Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, Sultan Ahmed and former minister Madan Mitra had vehemently opposed the pleas for a CBI probe and one of the main grounds cited by them was delay in releasing the tapes and the timing of release.
The counsels had claimed that release of the sting videos allegedly showing the TMC leaders accepting money were purposely timed just before the Assembly elections in West Bengal with the motive to malign the ruling party in the state.
The bench had during earlier hearings asked the state government and counsel for the leaders whether they were amenable to a preliminary inquiry by CBI into the sting tapes to establish if any offense was committed.
They objected to the suggestion claiming that no offense had been committed and claimed that the petitioners could not show that any demand had been made for money on a promise to do something for the money allegedly given.