Cash-for-jobs scam: Chennai court denies bail to Tamil Nadu Minister Senthil Balaji

During the bail hearing, ED expressed its apprehension that Balaji, if released on bail, might influence the case by threatening witnesses.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Sep 20, 2023 | 6:14 PMUpdatedSep 20, 2023 | 6:14 PM

Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji arrested

The Principal Sessions Court in Chennai on Wednesday, 20 September, denied bail to Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji, arrested by the Enfocement Directorate (ED) on money laudering charges in the alleged cash-for-jobs scam.

On 14 June, Balaji was arrested by the ED based on three FIRs filed in 2018 by the Chennai City Central Crime Branch (CCB).

Balaji, as transport minister in the AIADMK regime between 2011 to 2016, was said to be collecting money from aspirants while promising them jobs in the Transport Department.

Nearly three months after the ED had filed a charge sheet against him in the case, Balaji filed a bail application before the Principal Sessions Court.

Related: Senthil Balaji’s continuance does not augur well says Madras HC

‘Might foil the case’

On 15 September, Principal Sessions Judge S Alli, after hearing the marathon arguments advanced by Senior Counsels Kabil Sibal and NR Elango on behalf of Balaji, and Additional Solicitor General ARL Sunderesan, who represented the ED, reserved the orders on the bail plea to 20 September.

During the bail hearing, ED expressed its apprehension that Balaji, if released on bail, might influence the case by threatening the witnesses as he was still a minister without portfolio in the state Cabinet, and therefore prayed the court not to grant him bail.

Taking the submission into consideration, the court declined bail to the minister.

It may be recalled that, on 4 September, the Madras High Court directed the Principal Session Court to hear the bail plea of Balaji after the Special Court for the cases relating to MPs and MLAs and the Principal Sessions Court refused to hear his bail petition citing jurisdiction.

In another case, the Madras High Court observed that the continuation of Senthil Balaji as a minister without portfolio in the MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu Cabinet served no purpose.

The first bench, comprising Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice PD Audikesavalu, said that they leave it to the wisdom of the chief minister stating that it was not encouraging for the principles of good governance and administrative integrity.

Related: Cash-for-jobs scam designed, implemented by Balaji, claims ED

The ED contention

“Senthil Balaji continuously and meticulously monitored and executed a job racket scam,” the ED stated in the charge sheet filed on 12 August against the minister in the cash-for-jobs scam.

Following the prosecution complaint, filed under various sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) on 12 August before a special court in Chennai, the ED also served Balaji with a copy of the charge sheet on 28 August.

The ED, in the charge sheet, stated that the entire recruitment process in the Tamil Nadu Transport Department during the tenure of Senthil Balaji as its minister was turned into a “corrupt chiefdom” and the cash-for-jobs scam was executed under his authority.

Balaji played a “pivotal and central” role, “exploiting” his official capacity as the transport minister for personal gains through corrupt and illegal means, the charge sheet claimed.

“The whole recruitment in the Transport Department during the tenure of the then-minister V Senthil Balaji has turned into a corrupt chiefdom, in which, as per the illegal directions of the chief (Senthil Balaji), the recruitment process was designed and implemented,” the ED alleged in the charge sheet.

Lodged in Puzhal Central Jail in Chennai, Balaji is now a minister without portfolio in the MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu Cabinet, and his judicial custody has been extended till 15 September.