Former Tamil Nadu ministers under fire from DVAC

Seven months since the change in regime at Fort St George, five former Ministers of the AIADMK have been booked by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption

Sleuths have so far searched the residential and business premises linked to former Municipal Administration Minister S.P. Velumani and former Electricity Minister P. Thangamani, both considered extremely powerful members of the erstwhile Edappadi K. Palaniswami Cabinet. C. Vijayabaskar, the controversial Health Minister who had faced Income Tax as well as CBI action while in office, former Transport Minister M.R. Vijayabhaskar and former Commercial Taxes Minister K.C. Veeramani are the others who have come under the DVAC scanner.

While the AIADMK has called the searches a political vendetta, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the government is fulfilling the DMK’s Assembly election promise to bring the corrupt members of the erstwhile government to book.

In recent decades, Tamil Nadu first witnessed the arrest of high-profile politicians during 1996, when the DMK government under M. Karunanidhi jailed former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and many of her colleagues in the 1991-96 Cabinet, besides booking senior civil servants, on corruption charges. For the first time, Karunanidhi set up three special courts to try 46 cases of corruption. The most high-profile of them was the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa, in which [following her death] her close aide V.K. Sasikala, the latter’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and disowned foster son V.N. Sudhakaran were convicted by the Supreme Court under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Incidentally, two former AIADMK Ministers — T.M. Selvaganapathy and Indira Kumari — were convicted years after they switched to the DMK.

A change in government in 2001 saw Jayalalithaa’s police going after the former Ministers of the DMK. Similar raids were seen a decade later. The DMK, which has returned to power after 10 years in opposition, has chosen to target the regional satraps of the AIADMK, a party that is shorn of a unitary leadership.

Dual challenge

The DMK has a dual challenge — to prove the corruption charges and to handle the corruption cases booked by the AIADMK in 2011 against its leaders, some of whom are Ministers now. The DMK leaders were charge-sheeted many years ago, and the cases are in different stages of trial.

Sources in the investigating agency say some of the charge-sheeted cases may be “re-investigated” with the trial court’s permission. Incidentally, in the past, re-investigation of cases against VIPs had seen prosecution witnesses turn hostile in their depositions. Most cases relate to amassing of wealth. The agencies that enforce the anti-corruption law book a disproportionate assets case when a prima facie offence is made out against a public servant that he/she amassed wealth disproportionate to his/her known sources of income. The case can be registered based on a specific complaint, source information and income tax returns.

Open source documents

Disproportionate assets cases have been registered against Mr. Veeramani, Mr. M.R. Vijayabhaskar, Mr. C. Vijayabaskar and Mr. Thangamani. Mr. Velumani has been booked for alleged corruption in the award of civil contracts. The disproportionate assets cases rely on open source documents like affidavits filed by the accused persons during elections. “Such affidavits are filed by candidates in consultation with auditors, and they are also aware that they could go against them during a regime change. The investigating agency takes into account the assets and not liabilities declared in such affidavits. These cases can be easily contested since the family members of the elected representatives have a well-established business income that is accounted for,” says a senior police officer.

However, for a foolproof case, the larger conspiracy and the proceeds of crime have to be the focus of the investigation. “Investigators should do their homework before conducting searches or registering cases by going into ‘benami’ assets, foreign investments etc.,…” the officer said.

In many complaints, the inquiry is still at the stage of preliminary inquiry or detailed inquiry, though the complainants provided sufficient material where prima facie offence was established. The DVAC could have straight away registered a regular case.

The progress is also slow. In half-a-dozen cases against senior DMK leaders, including Ministers, the DVAC charge-sheeted them in 2013 but the trial is still on. After the Supreme Court ruled that special courts be formed to try corruption cases against elected representatives, the government issued orders forming the same. “Though the trial was to have been conducted on a day-to-day basis, the cases are pending. While such delays create an impression that disproportionate assets cases are an eyewash, one also has to remember the eventual conviction in Jayalalithaa’s case,” the officer adds.

Explaining the role of other agencies in the DVAC cases, senior investigators say that in case of major cash seizures, the Income Tax Department would step in. The Enforcement Directorate can register a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act if prima facie offence of proceeds of crime is made out and even attach properties of the accused. The sensational gutkha scam, exposed by The Hindu in June 2017, is one interesting case that was investigated by multiple agencies. After the case was probed by the DVAC, the court transferred it to the CBI. It was the Income Tax Department that initially found incriminating material pointing to corruption involving persons holding top positions in the government. The CBI conducted searches on the premises of the then Health Minister and some senior officials. But the agency is yet to file the second charge sheet.

Sometimes, such actions turn tragic. After the DVAC recently searched the premises of former Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board chairman A.V. Venkatachalam for his alleged criminal misconduct and misappropriation, it found 10 kg of sandalwood articles, besides cash and gold. The seizure of sandalwood was referred to the Forest Department. However, the former Indian Forest Service official allegedly died by suicide on December 2.

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104 and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050.)

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