Salim Raj's statement recorded; 'proof tenuous'

In 2011, a Gulf returnee bought 15 cents of land at Kadakampally village from a Varkala-based family. The sub-registrar “mutated” the land in the buyer’s name.

This year, the buyer went to the local village office to settle his land tax dues to get a municipal permit to build a house.

The village officer refused to accept the tax on the ground that as per the land tax register, there was another title deed holder for the same property.

The 40-year-old man is one of the many victims of a land scam that had attracted a lot of political controversy because of the alleged association of Salim Raj, a former personal security officer (PSO) of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, with some of those who are believed to be the main suspects in the multi-crore fraud.

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) recorded the police officer’s statement at the agency’s office here on Wednesday. Enforcers said the evidence against him, at this stage of the investigation, was “at best tenuous.”

Anti-corruption investigators said the anomaly in land records, which facilitated the rip-off, could be summed up thus: two title deeds for one survey number. They were attempting to find out how it came about.

44.5 acres of land

At the heart of the controversy is 44.5 acres of land near the fast developing IT hub at Kazhakuttam. In the early 1990s, much of it was abandoned paddy fields surrounded by hillocks. Currently, the land is prime property.

Most of it has been built upon. Gated communities and high-rise flats with sea views dominate the scenic locality.

Victims

The victims of the scam include scores of house owners, who realised lately that their land had been transacted without their knowledge. They too are not able to remit land tax, a pre-requisite for several government services, because of the incongruity in land records in the local village office.

VACB officials said they suspected that the suspects and their “collaborators in the officialdom” had exploited a whole set of court orders (including a few rendered illegible by time), “dubious” partition deeds, and “erroneously interpreted” High Court directions to “usurp” the land.

Swindling

Some had bought the land cheaply, knowing very well that other persons were in possession of it and the possibility of litigation was high.

Many had been genuinely swindled into buying pieces of the contested property. Two real estate businessmen entered into a sale agreement with the sellers for a large swath of land, but never consummated the deal. A senior VACB enforcer said the agency suspected that at least some of the transactions seemed “just for the record” and could be part of a large-scale money laundering racket.