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Gutkha scam: Tamil Nadu minister, top cop, others raided by CBI; DMK demands suspension of accused

Raids were conducted by multiple teams of the CBI at nearly 40 locations across Tamil Nadu in the morning.

Gutkha scam: Tamil Nadu minister, top cop, others raided by CBI; DMK demands suspension of accused

CHENNAI: Multiple teams of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday raided the residences of several persons including Tamil Nadu Health and Family Welfare Minister C Vijaya Bhaskar,  Director General of Police (DGP) TK Rajendran in connection with a multi-crore gutkha scam.

''Raids were conducted by multiple teams of the CBI at nearly 40 locations across Tamil Nadu in the morning,'' its spokesperson Abhishek Dayal told reporters in the national capital.

News agency ANI reported that 35 locations of promoters and directors of Jayam Industries in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Thoothukudi, Puducherry, Bengaluru, Mumbai etc were raided by the agency on Wednesday.

This was the first time that a serving DGP`s residence in Tamil Nadu was also raided by the CBI.

Prominent among those who were raided include former Tamil Nadu Minister BV Ramanaa and retired Chennai Police Commissioner S George.

Sources told Zee News that the residence of Food Safety and Drug Administration's Senthil Murgan, Dr Laxmi Naryan and E Siva Kumara (food safety officer of Tamil Nadu), R Gulzar Begum (IRS, Custom Department) RK Pandiyan (Superintendent) and Sheshdari (Superintendent) of the Central Excise and Customs Department, Inspector Sampath Kumar, Paneeselvam (Assistant Commissioner) Kurnijiselvam (Deputy Commissioner) Ganesan (Sales Tax official) of the Sales Tax Department were raided by the CBI, which also recovered several crucial documents in connection with the Gutkha scam.

The CBI action prompted calls from MK Stalin, leader of the main opposition party DMK, to Governor Banwarilal Purohit to sack Vijaya Bhaskar and Rajendran if they do not resign on their own.

PMK founder S Ramadoss too demanded the removal of Vijaya Bhaskar and all other raided officials from their posts.

The CBI in May-end had registered a case in the scam against unknown officials of Central Excise, Tamil Nadu government, Food Safety Department, public servants and private persons on charges of criminal conspiracy and for corruption following a direction of the Madras High Court on April 26. 

The agency has been investigating all aspects of the offence of illegal manufacture, import, supply, distribution and sale of gutkha and other forms of chewable tobacco which are banned in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

In April 2018, the Madras High Court ordered the CBI to probe the multi-crore scam, alleging Vijayabaskar, Rajendran and several other top police and other central and state government officials were said to be alleged.

The court ordered the CBI probe on a petition filed by DMK legislator J Anbazhagan.

"The probe seems to be proceeding on the right track under the CBI. Whether a case will be filed against the scamsters or not will have to be seen," Anbazhagan said. 

"If no case is filed, then we may have to approach the Madras High Court again," he warned.

Several political parties had demanded a CBI probe into the issue, which was rejected by the AIADMK government.

In June 2018, the Enforcement Directorate registered a money laundering case against unnamed government officials in Tamil Nadu based on a first information report (FIR) registered by the CBI in May.

The case is related to an Income Tax Department raid in the offices, residences and godowns of a gutkha manufacturer Madhava Rao in Tamil Nadu in 2016 for evading about Rs 250 crore tax.

A diary was seized from Rao`s residence which listed alleged bribes paid to various officials amounting to about Rs 39.31 crore.

Stalin alleged that the AIADMK government had tried various measures to stall the investigation into the scam.

The IT department had sent a report to the Tamil Nadu government about the alleged payoffs to various persons. 

The state government claimed it did not receive any report from the IT department. But a copy of the letter sent to the state government by the IT department was seized from the room occupied by V.K. Sasikala in the late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa`s residence in November 2017.

The Tamil Nadu government has banned the manufacture and storage of gutkha. However, the product was reportedly available in the market with the alleged connivance of police officers and others.

Despite objections from the opposition parties, Rajendran was given a two-year extension in 2018 by the AIADMK government.

(With Agency inputs)