Gutkha scam in TN: All you need to know

Last Updated 05 September 2018, 11:23 IST

As many as 40 properties belonging to various top public officials, including Tamil Nadu's Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar, Director General of Police T K Rajendran, former minister B V Ramana and former Chennai Police Commissioner S George, were raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday in connection with the gutkha scam.

Gutka or packaged chewing tobacco was banned in Tamil Nadu in May 2013. The gutkha scam, which refers to kickbacks paid by manufacturers of tobacco-based products, was transferred to the CBI by the Madras High Court in June. The orders were passed on a petition filed by DMK MLA J Anbazhagan demanding a probe by the Central agency in the case.

Deccan Herald's ETB Sivapriyan explains the controversy:

How did the scam get exposed?

The matter came out in the open in July 2016 when Tamil Nadu was helmed by the late former chief minister J Jayalalithaa. The Income-Tax Department, during its searches at the residence of Madhava Rao who owns MDM brand of gutkha, recovered a diary that had details of bribes being allegedly paid to Vijayabhaskar, Rajendran and George, who had served as Chennai Police Commissioner thrice, for allowing illegal sale of tobacco-based products.

The bribes were paid to allow the sale of gutkha, which is banned for sale in Tamil Nadu since 2013. The diary, which was recovered by the I-T sleuths, had incriminating information that Rs 40 crore was paid as bribe by the manufacturer for allowing illegal sale of gutkha in the open market in Tamil Nadu.

What did the I-T Department do?

The Income-Tax department, after recovering the diary, had written a letter on August 11, 2016, to the then Chief Secretary P Ramamohana Rao seeking an inquiry into the scam. Though Rao later admitted that he received the letter and forwarded it to Jayalalithaa, his successor Girija Vaidyanathan for long maintained that there was no letter from the I-T department. The letter written by Principal Director of Income Tax, Chennai to the Chief Secretary was recovered by the agency from a room occupied by jailed AIADMK leader V K Sasikala during raids in November 2017.

How did the case land in High Court?

The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), which began a probe into the scam, booked junior-level officers in the case. However, the DMK, represented by its MLA J Anbazhagan, knocked at the doors of the Madras High Court seeking a CBI inquiry into the case.

The Tamil Nadu government vehemently opposed a CBI probe into the scam, but the High Court transferred it to the agency in April this year.

What did the judges say?

The first Division Bench of the Madras High Court, headed by the then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose, had on April 26 noted that they deem it fit to order a CBI probe since the underground gutkha business is a crime against society.

The judges, however, made it clear that a CBI probe ordered by them should not be construed as a definite conclusion with respect to the complicity of any of the persons involved in the alleged business and that it was up to the investigating agency to unearth the truth.

What is the current status of the case?

The CBI, after registering a case, interrogated Madhava Rao in Chennai last week and Wednesday's searches are based on the leads given by him, according to sources.

(Published 05 September 2018, 07:37 IST)

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