Action on the basis of recent High Court order

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday began investigations into a land scam that created a controversy because of the alleged association of Salim Raj, a former personal security officer (PSO) of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, with some of the prime suspects in the multi-crore fraud.

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) had earlier investigated the case and on the basis of its report the High Court had recently ordered the CBI to investigate the matter.

The anomaly in land records, which facilitated the rip-off, could, arguably, be summed up thus: two title-deeds for one survey number. The CBI would find out how this came about.

The controversy was centred on 44.5 acres of land at Kadakampally, near the State’s IT hub at Kazhakuttam. In the early 1990s, much of it was abandoned paddy fields surrounded by hillocks. Currently, the land is prime property.

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.

The VACB had reported to the High Court 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.

Some of the current owners 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.

The VACB also told the court that it suspected that at least some of the transactions seemed ‘just for the record’ and could be part of a successful large-scale money laundering operation. The State police intelligence was the first to unearth the land scam after the Chief Minister ordered it to inquire into the antecedents of Salim Raj.