Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Cuttack, Aug 8:
The Crime Branch of Odisha police, which arrested the controversial godman Sarathi Baba after picking him up from his ashram at Barimula in Kendrapara district in the wee hours today, will seek a five-day remand from the court for further interrogation.
Making a formal announcement in this regard at a press briefing here this afternoon, Crime Branch ADG BK Sharma said charges have been slapped against the Baba under Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery with the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine forged document), 341 (wrongful confinement) 506 (criminal intimidation), 379 (theft) of the IPC and SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (offences of atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes).
“Two swords have been also seized from the ashram premises. On the basis of the seizure, section 25 of the Arms Act (acquisition, possession, manufacture, sale, import, export and transport of arms and ammunition) has been slapped on the Baba. Since the ashram was misused by keeping these swords, the Baba has been arrested under section 7 of Religious Institutions Prevention of Misuse Act, 1988,” Sharma added.
“We will forward the Baba to the court today and pray the court to take him on a five-day remand for further interrogation. On the basis of the interrogation, further investigation would be made,” the Crime Branch ADG said.
Besides bank and property documents, 15 kgs of silver, 54.1 grams of gold, cash worth Rs 2.28 lakh and 55 kgs of metal coins having the photo of the Baba have been seized during the search carried out by the Crime Branch team in the ashram, he revealed.
He said steps have been taken to seal the bank accounts of the Baba and his ashram. Besides, the Baba’s passport has also been seized, he added.
“On the basis of the evidence and after the scrutiny of the documents and interrogation of other staff of the ashram, the Investigating Officer (IO) and Crime Branch DSP Alok Das arrested Santosh Raula alias Sarathi Baba,” he informed.
Sharma said as per the directive of the state government, a special inquiry team comprising an Additional SP and three officers had gone to the ashram of Sarathi Baba alias Santosh Raula at Barimula in Kendrapara district yesterday. After conducting a thorough investigation, the team submitted a report to the Crime Branch. On the basis of the report, it is found that several cognizable offences have been organised by the Baba and his associates.
“Basing on the report, the Crime Branch had registered a case (No-17) at the CID police station yesterday,” Sharma said.
The four-member Crime Branch team, led by additional SP Santosh Patnaik, which subjected the Baba to intensive grilling for nearly 14 hours since yesterday afternoon, decided to arrest him in consultation with higher officials of the agency after clinching proof of huge wealth amassed by the Baba and sexual exploitation of women emerged during the interrogation of the Baba and searches inside the ashram premises.
The team, during its investigation, found conclusive evidence of blackmailing of young women with their nude photos taken by cameras hidden in bathrooms of the lodge inside the ashram. CCTV camera footage has also been seized by the sleuths.
After the marathon interrogation, the Crime Branch team took the Baba and one of his associates to Cuttack at about 4 AM where a six-member special investigation team (SIT) team interrogated him.
On Friday, the Crime Branch team, led by led by additional SP Santosh Patnaik,Inspectors Nilima Panda and Rabi Narayan Mohanty and ASI Anila Nanda, arrived at the ashram at Barimula near Tini Muhana Chhak at about noon for interrogation of the Baba.
Sources in the ashram said the Baba started crying after seeing the Crime Branch team which had no effect on the investigating officials who bombarded him with a host of questions and extracting crucial information about the murky goings-on inside the ashram.
While one group of the Crime Branch team continued the interrogation, the other team searched the ashram premises. Besides the valuables seized, the team also came to know about shifting of costly ornaments over crores from the ashram in the last four days.
Apart from this, the team seized the mobile phones of Sarathi Baba and his associates.
While the search operation continued inside the ashram, another team went to several banks in Kendrapara town and collected account statements in the name of Sarathi Ashram and the associates of the Baba. The team found crores of transaction in the accounts of the Baba and the Sarathi Ashram Trust in the State Bank of India, Allahabad Bank, Punjab National Bank and United Bank and Kendrapara Urban Bank. Apart from this, crores of money was found to have been withdrawn from the accounts of these banks two weeks ago.
Besides, the Crime Branch has kept an FIR open to include further allegations against him. The FIR has been lodged by the Crime Branch Additional SP Santosh Mohanty.