Long after the lure of goat and teak farms in Tamil Nadu, the recent Ponzi schemes selling cosmetics the American way and the perennial money chains promising impossible returns on investments, the latest financial fraud to get busted in the State is over reaping solar and wind energy, again in Tamil Nadu.
Sarita S. Nair and her husband Biju Radhakrishnan burst into the spotlight following a controversy over phone calls made to Sarita from the mobile phone of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s secretary. For at least a year before the storm broke, the couple was travelling across the State allegedly conning businessmen.
One of their victims was Sajjad, a businessman from Perumbavoor. Sajjad had come by some money and was looking for a good investment for the sum. That was when he was approached by Biju and Sarita, who were directors of Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions, registered at Chittoor Road in Kochi.
Biju promised to get Sajjad’s Mudikkal Power Plant included in the Emerging Kerala meet, and even produced a letter allegedly signed by the Chief Minister.
The couple kept stringing him along with different promises each time, getting more money out of him in instalments for every new scheme. Their schemes started at solar panels for his house, making Sajjad a franchisee of a solar heater business, and even setting up a wind farm at Nagercoil to be owned by Sajjad. By the time Sajjad went to the police he had allegedly paid the duo Rs.42 lakh — Rs. 35 lakh in cash and Rs. 7 lakh by cheque.
All of this was paid with no result. When Sajjad questioned the progress of each scheme, the couple allegedly assured him by paying him back small sums. An amount of Rs.7 lakh was paid back to him in multiple instalments every time he asked too many questions.
“Besides handing over money, another mistake I made was not asking for a copy of that letter,” Sajjad said.
The police said Sajjad paid the couple Rs.40 lakh in several instalments. “Sarita took Rs.7 lakh from him. The rest was paid to Biju. This was a year ago,” said Perumbavoor Circle Inspector of Police V. Roy.
In the following months, Sajjad grew more concerned as he found no progress in the project though he had paid a huge sum to the company. Towards the end of 2012, Sajjad finally realised he had been tricked and went to the police.
While Sajjad was promised that his power plant could generate 0.75 MW power, and he could have three windmills at Radhapuram with a capacity of 850 KW each, investors of Plakudi Energy Consortium were promised assistance to set up windmills at Muppanthal near Nagercoil. The consortium, which comprises 12 members of a family from Ambalappuzha, allegedly lost Rs. 75 lakh in the deal.
Biju took three partners of the Plakudi Energy Consortium to New Delhi for a “personal verification”, made them meet some “officials” – including a man from Kottayam who claimed to be an IAS officer in the Uttar Pradesh cadre – and brought them back the same day by the evening flight.
Both the power plants were promised financial assistance and loans at just 3.85 per cent interest from Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA).
The couple initially advertised in leading news dailies that their firm provided assistance for home electrification. Investors of Plakudi Energy Consortium approached them for setting up solar panels for their ancestral temple. But Biju talked them into investing in fictitious power plant projects.
The couple’s modus operandi in both the cases remained the same. The accused dropped big names, including that of Chief Minister, Union government officials and senior officers in the State Police. At one point, Biju told Sajjad that he was the local guardian of a senior police officer’s daughter who was studying in New Delhi then. Biju had introduced himself to Sajjad as principal adviser to Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah and private adviser to State Chief Minister.
However, claims about his connections with top political leaders and police officers led to Biju’s fall. He was first picked up in Thiruvananthapuram after he used the name of one of the senior most officials in the City Police, thus triggering an inquiry against his firm.
The couple then repeated the trick when the same officer was at the helm of the City Police here, but they did not push their luck for long. They vanished after a short stint at their office at Chittoor Road and moved to a rural area.
Though the couple was off and on the police radar, with even their phone calls being monitored at one point, they kept eluding clear action. Sajjad said a police officer investigating his case told him that he received calls from political circles not to proceed with the case and to go for a settlement.
When the police arrested Sarita from her house in Thiruvananthapuram on May 3, the duo had cheating cases registered against them at Vanchiyoor, Ambalappuzha, and Ernakulam. Sarita was remanded in judicial custody on Thursday after questioning by the Perumbavoor police.
Her husband Biju is absconding, even as allegations fly about the couple’s alleged links with members of the Chief Minister’s staff.