Close associates of A Raja and Kanimozhi found themselves at the receiving end of CBI searches. Brijesh Pandey and Jeemon Jacob track the details
WHEN SLEUTHS of the Central Bureau of Investigation raided Tamil Maiyam, an NGO linked to Kanimozhi, DMK MP and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s daughter, the person who opened the door argued that the house — located in Chennai’s largely middle-class area of Mylapore — belonged to people who promoted Tamil art and developed urban facilities in rural areas.
But the knock was not on the wrong door. Reverend Jegath Gasper Raj, a Catholic priest from the Kottar diocese, who founded Tamil Maiyam, is a man to watch. The 44-year-old priest is a choreographer, musician, writer, orator, fundraiser, activist and psychoanalyst who can predict the public mood perfectly.
His music album was released by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President APJ Abdul Kalam used to listen to his music in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Raj, born in a poor family in Kanjampuram village in Kanyakumari district, was once accused by AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa of helping the LTTE set up base in coastal Tamil Nadu. He was considered to be the link between the LTTE and Karunanidhi. When he worked for the Philippines-based Radio Veritas for seven years, he claims to have used the broadcasts to reunite 4,600 Sri Lankan Tamil families who were torn apart by the civil war.
The priest, who holds two post-graduate degrees, openly expresses political views. “I pray that my countrymen, as true children of a great civilisation, will courageously raise their voice against the immoral and undemocratic foreign policy of India that has substantially contributed to the genocide of our Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka,” he says on his website. “This nation belongs to a billion people, not just to some politicians and bureaucrats.”
Raj might now discover what happens when political tides turn. For, accompanying the CBI investigators were officials of the Enforcement Directorate that — way back in November 2009 — prepared a detailed document of those involved in the 2G scam. Raj was questioned on the source of funds for his NGO, set up in July 2002.
Also searched was Raj’s Goodwill Communications in Chennai. “During the conversations, Raj maintained that Karunanidhi was a poet, columnist and writer and helped him run the outfit,” a top CBI source said in a telephonic interview.
In a move clearly aimed at deflecting criticism that the ruling UPA alliance was soft on corruption, the joint CBI-ED probe that started at 7.30 am on 15 December — part of a year-long investigation into the allocation of 2G spectrum licences — was conducted at 34 locations. The raids came days after Parliament’s winter session ended in a fiasco in the wake of Opposition protests demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the scam.
But the raids are unlikely to blunt the edge of political criticism. “The spectrum scam is not just a case of governmental corruption,” says BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. “It is a multi-dimensional scam. The CBI raids are too little, too late. Hope this is not just a sham. We get a feeling that the accused got all the time to conceal documents that matter. Raids normally do not get delayed by a month.”
The BJP has announced a series of protests across India next week to deepen the discomfort of the ruling government.
INVESTIGATORS SAY they are looking for clues to what they claim was a definite illegal money trail that traversed across 10 nations and involved 11 companies set up by those involved in the highly controversial 2G spectrum sale in 2008. “It is a standard practice to open multiple channels to route funds in case of big scams,” adds Javadekar. Union Home Secretary GK Pillai had also recently hinted that the telecom investigation — in part — focusses on the possible illegal movement of funds in and out of India through the hawala route, an old method of money laundering.
CBI and ED officials didn’t offer details but said they seized incriminating documents. “Searches have been conducted at the residential and official premises of several companies, their directors and former TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) chairman as part of the follow-up of searches conducted on 8 December,” CBI Deputy Inspector General of Police Vinita Thakur told reporters in Delhi, adding: “Niira Radia was also questioned and she cooperated with us.”
Gasper Raj’s music album was released by PM Manmohan Singh. Abdul Kalam used to listen to it
It is reliably learnt that the CBI has taken corporate lobbyist Radia’s income-tax returns of the past nine years from the IT office in Delhi and seized her business records, suspecting that her returns and investments do not tally. “There are reflections of kickback money invested in her company. We are trying to probe the same,” adds the CBI source.
Interestingly, 27 of the 34 premises raided were in Tamil Nadu. They targeted the houses of Raja’s brother A Ramanathan in Chennai and Trichy, another brother in Ariyalur, a sister in Trichy, Raja’s ancestral village home and G Subramanyam, an auditor of Raja’s. Two journalists were raided: Kamaraj, a Chennai-based Tamil magazine journalist and GL Narasimhan in Trichy.
THE RAID at Kamaraj’s home in the upmarket Besant Nagar neighbourhood is significant because his wife Jayasudha is the general manager of Radia’s Chennai office. CBI sources in Chennai told TEHELKA that it has evidence of Kamaraj having acquired huge wealth and assets beyond his known sources of income during the past four years and that he was closely involved in the benami deals. The CBI is also verifying his passport details and foreign trips made by him during the past four years. Interestingly, the CBI has found details of a plot worth Rs. 1.5 crore allotted to him by the Karunanidhi government in Kamaraj Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, in his wife’s name on 23 April 2008. There are papers showing that Kamaraj deposited Rs. 46.11 lakh on allotment and constructed a four-storey building on the plot.
Known to be a close aide of Raja and Kanimozhi, Kamaraj had a free run of Kanimozhi’s house and used his contacts for business deals. Kamaraj was sentenced to a two-year jail term last year by the Chief Metropolitan court in Chennai, along with Nakeeran editor RR Gopal, on a defamation case filed by AIADMK MP P Dinakaran. But he has appealed against the court order.
The CBI has unearthed documents from Kamaraj’s residence in Perambalur relating to various financial deals, including land transactions. Kamaraj shot to fame during the Veerappan days when his magazine published an exclusive interview with the sandalwood smuggler. In 1998, the special task force interrogated Kamaraj in connection with the killing of a police informer Bhaktavalsalam by Veerappan.
In Chennai, the CBI also raided the residence and offices of one Daulat Jain, brother of Manish Jain, a known hawala operator whose name figured in the diary seized when Raja’s houses in Delhi and Perambalur were raided last week. Another company under the CBI scanner is Green House Promoters, which may have been used to park funds from the scam.
Kamaraj, a journalist, had a free run of Kanimozhi’s house and used his contacts for business deals
The ED officials had also searched the Delhi residences of Siddharth Behura, a former telecom secretary, and AK Srivastava, a deputy director general in the department of telecommunications.
It was logical then to search the Noida premises of retired IAS officer Pradeep Baijal, who from 2003 to 2006 headed TRAI, and greatly influenced telecom policy. “For some strange reasons, all focus is on the 2008 auction. Actually, the investigators must probe TRAI for its role in 2003,” says Anil Kumar, a telecom analyst. Radia and Baijal did not make themselves available for comment on the day of the raids.
M Sadiq Batcha, managing director of Green House Promoters, is known to be Raja’s financial manager. A familiar face in Karunanidhi’s family gatherings, he set up his company soon after Raja became a Union minister in 2004. In fact, Raja’s nephew RP Parameshkumar is the joint managing director of the company and opened bank accounts for it in Malaysia. Raja’s other brother A Kaliaperumal and wife were on the board of directors.
Batcha started a subsidiary in Singapore in 2007 before the spectrum auction started, which the CBI suspects was set up to channel money. During the two December raids, CBI unearthed documents showing huge money transactions in both the company account and Batcha’s personal accounts. Some of the entries indicate that Parameshkumar opened bank accounts in Singapore as well.
The CBI will also probe land purchases in various parts of Tamil Nadu. About 160 poor farmers in Narmamangalam village seem to have been intimidated into selling land to the company below the market price. The Salem district administration is probing these charges.
With all this frenetic activity, hopes have been raised that the telecom scamsters will finally be nailed.
“The noose is tightening around the wrongdoers,” India’s top lawyer and MP, Ram Jethmalani, told TEHELKA. But experts following the scam warn that with so many rich and powerful people involved, there are bound to be many obstacles ahead.