A Kolkata court on Sunday refused to grant bail and remanded businessman Pawan Kumar Ruia in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the West Bengal police till 25 December.
The court rejected his lawyer Ayan Bhattacharya’s argument that Ruia was no longer involved in the running of wagon maker Jessop and Co. and hence could not be dragged into a case of cheating and conspiracy filed against it by the Indian Railways.
On Sunday, with the permission of the court, CID added another charge against Ruia—that of mischievously setting fire to destroy a property.
The state CID on Saturday arrested Ruia, chairman of Ruia Group which controls Jessop and Dunlop India Ltd, from his New Delhi home on charges of cheating, conspiracy and misappropriation of properties. He was brought to Kolkata the same evening.
Both Jessop and tyre maker Dunlop suspended production years ago.
The CID started investigating Jessop after the railways lodged a police complaint that the company had taken components and raw materials worth Rs50 crore but had not honoured contractual commitments to supply self-propelling train carriages called Electric multiple unit (EMU) coaches.
Workers have alleged for years that the Ruia-led management of Jessop was stealing valuable assets from the company’s closed factory in Kolkata. In October, chief minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a probe into the allegations after fires broke out at the factory several times within a short span.
Denying the allegation, the Ruia Group had said it was itself a victim of theft from the closed factory and that the police didn’t step up vigil despite court orders.
Ruia’s lawyer Bhattacharya claimed in court on Sunday that he had stepped down from Jessop’s board as early as in 2008, and that he wasn’t a shareholder in the company either.
Ruia, who bought Jessop in 2003 and Dunlop in 2005, had over the years distanced himself from the day-to-day operations of companies controlled by the Ruia Group.
Public prosecutor Pallab Nath Chowdhury said Jessop’s operations were shrouded in a veil of secrecy, and that the CID was trying to lift the veil to unearth the people responsible for the misappropriation.
CID officers said they had found during the course of the investigation started last month that Ruia ran Jessop through “proxies”.
Several workers and railway officials have said in their statements to the agency that though he wasn’t directly involved in Jessop’s operations, Ruia still called the shots, two CID officers said, asking not to be identified.
Besides Jessop and Dunlop, Ruia bought many ailing companies in Europe mostly from bankruptcy administrators, promising to turn them around. But one by one, the Ruia Group lost control of almost all these firms.
After Banerjee ordered an inquiry, Ruia had moved the Calcutta high court in October and secured an order asking the CID not to take any “coercive” measure against him. At the same time, the court had asked Ruia to cooperate with the probe but he never turned up at the CID headquarters to face questioning.
Ruia’s lawyer Bhattacharya said he wasn’t evading the agency. Citing documents that showed he was admitted in a hospital in New Delhi, Bhattacharya said Ruia couldn’t make himself available for questioning because of ill health.