CBI raids TN minister, DGP in gutkha scam

The residence of S George, former Chennai Police Commissioner, which is being raided by the CBI in connection with the gutkha scam. Twitter/ @sivaetb.

The CBI swooped down on the premises belonging to Tamil Nadu Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar, Director General of Police T K Rajendran and other officials of various state government and central government departments on Wednesday in connection with the multi-crore gutkha scam.

The scam refers to kickbacks paid by manufacturers of tobacco-based products. The sale of gutkha is banned in Tamil Nadu since 2013.

The CBI reaching the doorsteps of Vijayabhaskar and Rajendran, who was appointed as DGP for a two-year fixed tenure on the last day of his retirement on June 30, 2017, is yet another embarrassment for the beleaguered Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK government that has been battling crisis after crisis.

Former dairy development minister B V Ramana, former Chennai police commissioner S George and senior officials of the Sales Tax Department, Customs & Central Excise and Food Safety & Drug Administration were also raided. The raids that began at 7.30 in the morning were continuing in a few places at the time of going to press.

Rajendran is the first DGP in the state to be raided by the CBI. In 2016, weeks after the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa's death, the CBI had raided chief secretary P Ramamohana Rao that led to his sacking from the post. With Rajendran being raided, sources said his continuance as DGP has become untenable and that he might be asked to step down.

Even as the raids were on, Opposition leader M K Stalin led political parties in demanding that Governor Banwarilal Purohit step in and sack both Vijayabhaskar and Rajendran. However, Vijayabhaskar rejected calls for resignation, maintaining that he has done no wrong.

This is the second time that Vijayabhaskar, an influential leader from Pudukkottai near Tiruchi, has come under the radar of central agencies. In 2017, the I-T department raided his residence and recovered documents that showed that more than Rs 80 crore was to be distributed among voters in the bypolls to R K Nagar, which was subsequently rescinded.

The gutkha scam relates to bribes paid to the top brass of Tamil Nadu administration to allow illegal sale of gutkha in the state from 2013 to 2016. The allegation came to the fore after the Income Tax department recovered the diary of Madhava Rao, a gutkha manufacturer, that allegedly had details of bribes to the tune of Rs 40 crore being paid to Vijayabhaskar, Rajendran, George and other government officials.

“The CBI has today (Wednesday) conducted searches at around 35 locations including Chennai, Thiruvallur, Tuticorin, Pondicherry, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Guntur in an ongoing investigation relating to the gutkha scam case. The CBI had registered the case on the orders of the High Court of Madras dated 26.04.2018,” the CBI, which began its probe into the case following an order from the Madras High Court, said in a statement.

Ironically, it was George who had written to the government in December 2016 seeking a probe into the illegal sale of gutkha that led to the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption registering a case against junior officers of the government. However, the issue attained significance after reports emerged that the I-T department asked the then chief secretary P Ramamohana Rao to order an inquiry into allegations that politicians and senior officials received huge amounts of money as bribe for allowing illegal sale of gutkha.

The letter, which was forwarded by Rao to the then chief minister, was recovered from a room occupied by jailed AIADMK leader V K Sasikala in the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa during raids in November, 2017.

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CBI raids TN minister, DGP in gutkha scam

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