I-T searches underway at Tamil Nadu Minister Senthil Balaji and associates’ properties; DMK cadres resort to violence

Searches are on at various places, including the minister's residence at Karur, besides houses and offices of contractors close to Balaji.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published May 26, 2023 | 11:00 AM Updated May 26, 2023 | 5:42 PM

I-T officer Gayathri was surrounded by DMK men preventing her from conducting searches in Karur.

The Income Tax (I-T) Department is searching nearly 30 locations linked to Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Electricity, Excise and Prohibition V Senthil Balaji on Friday, 26 May.

Sources said searches are on at various places, including the minister’s residences at Karur, Coimbatore, and Chennai, besides houses and offices of contractors close to Balaji.

Even as the I-T officials swooped down on the properties of the minister, DMK workers gathered in front of the minister’s house in Karur. It has been alleged that a vehicle ferrying the officials was pelted with stones.

Incidentally, the searches came close on the heels of an allegation that the minister and his associates were forcing employees of the state-owned TASMAC — which has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu — to appropriate an extra ₹10 per bottle.

Though the minister denied the charge, the Opposition said he was lying.

Further, the Electricity Department was accused of procuring transformers at rates higher than the market price.

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Balaji is coming under the I-T radar.

In September 2017, the I-T Department inspected his properties following complaints of him defrauding several persons by promising them jobs in the transport department when he was the minister in 2015.

In April 2021, after Balaji joined DMK and was announced as the candidate from the Aravakurichi constituency, the I-T sleuths conducted searches at his residence in Karur.

Also Read: 14 parties petition SC against use of CBI, ED to target Opposition

Attack on I-T officers

According to sources, a team of officials went for raids on the house of one V Ashok, the younger brother of Minister Balaji at Ramakrishnapuram in Karur.

However, the family members had an altercation with the officials and did not allow the officials inside the house to conduct a search.

Meanwhile, DMK functionaries and cadres gathered in front of Ashok’s house and confronted the I-T officials, demanding to see their ID cards.

A group of DMK functionaries even had an argument with a woman officer and allegedly tore up the search warrant. The DMK cadres also damaged her handbag and raised slogans against the officials.

The officials were rescued by the local police. Following this, the I-T officials withdrew their search operations and lodged a complaint with the Karur Town police.

Sources in the I-T department said they had to stop their search operations in nearly five places due to the violence of the minister’s supporters. Senior I-T officials met Karur Superintendent of Police (SP) E Sundaravathanam following the attack on their subordinates.

Sundaravathanam subsequently told reporters that they had no prior information about the raids and had given adequate protection to the other places where raids are being conducted.

Meanwhile, I-T top officials in the state informed the Union Finance Ministry about the prevailing situation in Karur.

It was also learnt that at the request of the I-T officials, the ministry mobilised a battalion of CISF personnel to the places where the I-T raids were being conducted.

Further, four I-T officials were getting treated at the Karur Government Hospital after the alleged attack on them.

Sources in the I-T Department said that they would resume the searches at five places in Karur.

More trouble for minister

Recently, the Supreme Court allowed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to continue its investigation against Balaji in a cash-for-job scam.

The court also directed the Chennai City Crime Branch (CCB) to further investigate all cases and invoke the Prevention of Corruption Act against the minister. The court asked the CCB to complete the investigation and submit the final report in two months.

The apex court ruled, “The Investigation Officer shall proceed with further investigation in all cases by including the offences under the PC Act (Prevention of Corruption Act). Any let up on the part of the Investigation Officer in this regard will pave way for this court to consider appointing a Special Investigation Team in the future.”

Further allowing the appeals filed by the ED, the court said, “The ED will now be entitled to proceed further from the stage at which their hands were tied by the impugned order.”

The court also observed, “Once a piece of information relating to the acquisition of huge amount of illegal gratification in the matter of public employment has come into the public domain, it is the duty of the ED to register an Information Report.”

Related: SC nod to probe Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji

All about the cash-for-jobs scam

Between 2014-2015, while Balaji was the Transport Minister during the AIADMK regime, recruitment for the post of reserve crew drivers, crew conductors, junior tradesmen (JTM), junior assistant (JA), and junior engineer was announced in November 2014.

Some close aides of Balaji are alleged to have taken cash from the aspirants to fill the posts. Jobs were given to those who paid cash.

Subsequently, in 2016, the AIADMK came into power again but this time, the scenario was different. Following the death of then-chief minister Jayalalithaa and subsequent political developments, Balaji left the AIADMK and joined TTV Dhinakaran.

Following his move, the aspirants who paid money for jobs — but were yet to get one — started to pressurise Arulmani and others to return their money.

In 2018, four complaints were filed against Balaji and others, and an FIR was filed against them under Sections 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating), and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.

The case was investigated and a chargesheet was filed in the following year before a special court for Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

DMK condemns raids, BJP condemns attacks

RS Bharathi, the organising secretary of DMK, told reporters that the BJP government t the Centre was conducting raids at the properties related to Senthil Balaji in order to overshadow the success of Chief Minister MK Stalin’s foreign tour.

“The BJP doesn’t want the news of the chief minister’s foreign tours to reach the people and is thus resorting to cheap tactics,” he said.

He also alleged that Annamalai was behind the I-T searches, and that the DMK would not fear such raids as it had faced such raids even during “Emergency” in 1976.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu BJP state leader Annamalai, in a statement, condemned the attack on I-T officers. He sought action against the district SP for not providing adequate protection to the agency officers.

“When the DMK cadre knew about the I-T raid, how can the police claim that they did not know about the raids,” Annamalai asked.