Why ED wants to meet Tamil Nadu Minister Balaji’s sister-in-law even as her husband remains in hiding

Summons issued after ED officials inspected an under-construction bungalow in Karur, which belongs to Balaji's sister-in-law Nirmala.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Aug 10, 2023 | 1:23 PMUpdatedAug 10, 2023 | 1:23 PM

The bungalow that is being constructed on Nirmala's land in Karur. (Supplied)

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji’s sister-in-law Nirmala for interrogation, besides freezing her husband V Ashok Kumar’s properties at Chinna Andakoil in Karur.

On Wednesday, 9 August, the ED officials searched a bungalow being constructed on Nirmala’s 3.75 acres of land on the Karur-Coimbatore bypass.

Kumar has been in hiding ever since his brother Balaji’s arrest early on 14 June in a money laundering case. Despite multiple notices, he had not appeared before the ED.

The ED officials also took a team of engineers, valuers, and surveyors under CRPF protection to estimate the cost of the under-construction bungalow. Since neither Ashok Kumar nor Nirmala could be contacted, the officials stuck the summons notice, signed by Assistant Director Brijesh Beniwal, on the building.

The summons directed Nirmala to appear before the ED immediately. The search continued for about two hours.

Meanwhile, another ED team verified the registration documents at the Karur Sub-Registrar Office, suspecting that the land was undervalued at the time of registration. The ED also seized documents related to 60 parcels of land.

Also read: Fresh ED raids on properties owned by Balaji’s associates

A mother’s gift

Nirmala had received the land as a gift from her mother Lakshmi.

The property earlier belonged to a businesswoman, Anuradha Ramesh, who had mortgaged the 3.75 acres for availing loans to the tune of ₹40 crore between 2014 and 2021.

In 2016, the bank valued the land at ₹9 crore but its current value is estimated to be more than ₹25 crore.

Anuradha Ramesh was unable to repay the loan, but she cleared the dues with interest in 2021. Officials later found that she had sold the property to Lakshmi.

The buyer, who had never filed income tax returns or wealth tax returns, filed her tax return for purchasing the land. She mentioned that she had raised ₹10 lakh for purchasing the land by selling her old jewellery. However, the transaction with the jeweller seemed fabricated.

Meanwhile, Lakshmi gifted the land to her daughter Nirmala, who has been constructing a bungalow there at an estimated cost of ₹300 crore, according to the ED.

Also read: Hours after SC grants it 5 days’ custody, ED picks up Balaji

Balaji cooperating: ED officer

Senthil Balaji, currently in ED custody, was interrogated on the third floor of the Joint Director’s office at Nungambakkam on Wednesday,

Sources said three officers were questioning Balaji, and the interrogation was video recorded. Further, the minister has been accommodated in a mini resting hall on the third floor.

A team of medical officers was monitoring Balaji’s health three times a day. He was allowed to walk and exercise on the ED campus.

An officer said that Balaji was cooperating with the interrogation. However, he claimed ignorance over the transactions made through bank accounts opened in his name.

“The minister is being interrogated based on the documents seized by the ED during the searches and also his investments in the Benami companies. To most of the questions, Balaji reportedly stated that he is unaware and there are no new assets purchased in his name,” an officer told South First.

The ED has been probing Balaji and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act on FIRs registered by the Central Crime Branch (CCB), Chennai police, in the cash-for-jobs scam.

The ED got Balaji’s custody for five days following a Supreme Court order. The custody period would end on Saturday, 12 August.

Also read: ED arrests TN Power Minister Senthil Balaji, takes him to hospital

Charges against Balaji

Balaji was arrested by the ED on 14 June in an alleged “cash for job” scam that took place when he was a minister (2011-2015) in the government of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa.

The case against Balaji dates back to November 2014, when the Metropolitan Transport Corporation advertised a recruitment drive to fill up various vacancies. Soon, allegations of corruption surfaced.

Balaji, who was the transport minister in the AIADMK government, joined the DMK in 2018.

After his arrest, the high court permitted Balaji to be shifted to a private hospital for heart surgery and restricted his interrogation in the hospital.

He was operated for the blockages of three coronary arteries at a local private hospital in Chennai.

Related: DMK most corrupt, Stalin retaining Balaji out of fear, says Amit Shah