Senthil Balaji resigns from Tamil Nadu Cabinet 9 months after ED arrest

Following his late-night arrest on 14 June last year, TN Chief Minister MK Stalin retained Senthil Balaji as a minister without a portfolio.

BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 13, 2024 | 12:07 AMUpdated Feb 13, 2024 | 12:08 AM

Senthil Balaji resigns from Tamil Nadu Cabinet 9 months after ED arrest

DMK leader Senthil Balaji, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year in connection with a cash-for-jobs scam, resigned from his post as a minister in the Tamil Nadu Cabinet on Monday, 12 February.

Following his late-night arrest on 14 June last year, Senthil Balaji was divested of the power portfolio. Chief Minister and DMK chief MK Stalin, however, retained him in the Cabinet as a minister without portfolio.

Balaji has since then been in prison, barring a  small time outside when he underwent surgery.

He has been trying to obtain bail, with the application still pending in court.

Related: Chennai court extends TN Minister Senthil Balaji’s remand to 15 February

The origins of the case

The ED booked Balaji under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) based on a 2018 complaint from people who alleged that they had given money to him for government jobs.

They said the money was given when Balaji was part of the AIADMK and the transport minister there.

It is said to have started when the Tamil Nadu government announced the recruitment for the post of reserve crew drivers, crew conductors, junior tradesmen, junior assistant, and junior engineer in November 2014.

One Arulmani and a few other close aides of Balaji allegedly took cash from aspirants to fill the post. Jobs were reportedly given to some of those who paid cash, while a few others continued to wait as Assembly elections were announced. They were promised jobs after the elections.

In 2016, the AIADMK came into power again, but the scenario was different this time. Following the death of then-chief minister and AIADMK chief 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 pressure Arulmani and others to return their money.

In 2018, four complaints were filed against Balaji and others, and an FIR was registered 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 the following year before a special court for cases against MPs and MLAs.

Related: Senthil Balaji has sought to defer trial to ‘stall’ proceedings

How ED entered the picture

In 2021, Balaji approached the Madras High Court to quash the FIRs. During the hearing, he submitted that he had entered into a settlement with 13 aspirants arrayed as witnesses in the case and returned their money.

Accepting it, a single judge quashed the proceedings of the special court. However, the police and others challenged it and filed an appeal in the Madras High Court.

Meanwhile, the ED took cognisance of the case, registered four cases in connection with the scam, and named Balaji as an accused in all four cases. It also issued a summons to Balaji and others for an inquiry.

Challenging the summons, Balaji once again approached the Madras High Court, contending that there were no jurisdictional facts for the ED to initiate any proceedings under the PMLA.

Allowing his petition, a bench comprising Justices T Raja and K Kumaresh Babu stayed the FIRs in September 2022 and quashed the summons issued by the ED. In response, the ED challenged the high court’s order before the Supreme Court.

In October 2022, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice S Abdul Nazeer set aside the high court order and restored the criminal complaint against Senthil Balaji and others.

Meanwhile, the ED completed its probe and filed chargesheets in all the cases. Challenging it, Balaji once again approached the high court.

On 31 October, 2022, a single-judge bench observed that there were irregularities in the ED investigation and that it overlooked certain crucial aspects.

The judge directed the ED to conduct a (de-novo) fresh investigation into two cases registered against the minister.

Related: Senthil Balaji’s bail plea rejected a third time by Chennai court

In the Supreme Court

Challenging the single-judge order for a fresh investigation, the ED filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.

The Anti-Corruption Movement and a few other victims also filed an appeal challenging the Madras High Court order.

A few cases were listed before Justice Krishna Murari’s bench and other matters related to the cash-for-jobs cases were listed before the bench headed by Justice Ramasubramanian.

Objecting to it, Balaji approached the Supreme Court, seeking an order for the cases to be heard by a single set of judges.

The case was listed before Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, who formed a special bench comprising both the Justices Murari and Ramasubramanian.

Meanwhile, the special bench, which reserved the order last month, heard the case on a daily basis and delivered its judgement on 16 May last year.

It set aside the Madras High Court order for a fresh investigation against the minister and others in the case, and directed the ED to continue its probe into the PMLA charges against Balaji.

Also Read: Madras HC convicts TN minister Ponmudy in disproportionate asset case

The ED action

A month later, a team of officials raided the office of the then minister, located at the Secretariat in St George Fort in Chennai, in an operation that went on for four hours.

Meanwhile, two ED teams comprising 10 officers — five in each team — stormed the official government bungalow of Balaji on DGS Dhinakaran Road in Chennai.

Another team of officials raided the properties of Balaji’s brother Ashok Kumar at Bishop Garden on Greenways Road in Chennai, while yet another team raided a property connected to Balaji in Abiramapuram in the city.

According to sources, four teams of ED officials also conducted raids at the residence of Balaji in Karur, which is the headquarters of the eponymous district.

While all this happened on 13 June last year, Balaji was arrested in the early hours of the next day.