Alleged ‘extortionist’ was Karnataka Lokayukta PRO for 18 years

Joint Commissioner of Lokayukta, Syed Riyaz, covering his face after he was arrested in Bangalore on Monday.- Photo: Sampath Kumar G P   | Photo Credit: Sampath Kumar G P

Till a few months ago, Syed Riyaz, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Karnataka Lokayukta, was considered one of the most influential and powerful officers in the anti-corruption watchdog. On deputation from the Police Department, he had managed to occupy the PRO’s post for 18 years without a break, and was even chosen to represent the country in the World Bank’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) meet held in Washington D.C., U.S., in 2010.

But on Sunday, the Riyaz story came crashing down. He was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing allegations of corruption in the Lokayukta’s office as the suspected ‘kingpin’, who carried out an organised extortion racket using his position.

Sources in the SIT claim he was coordinating with two gangs of touts and RTI activists, who would dig up dirt against government officials, and threatened them with raids. The gangs used the office of Riyaz, now a Joint Commissioner, to impress on the officials of their potential and make true their threats. SIT officials say that Riyaz’s interrogation will be crucial, and they suspect he may have been in direct touch with Ashwin Rao, son of Lokayukta Y. Bhaskar Rao.

The entire episode came to the fore following a complaint filed by an executive engineer of the State PWD, in which allegations were made against Mr. Bhaskar Rao’s son, and had snowballed into a major controversy and demands for resignation of the Lokayukta.

What’s puzzling is how Riyaz’s power remained unchecked for such a long period of time despite receiving “oral warnings” from two former Lokayuktas for “deviant activities”. His name was also part of a letter by the former Lokayukta S.P. Madhukar Shetty to the then Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde detailing allegations of corruption within the organisation, sources said. But he managed to continue in office.

A former Lokayukta police official said Riyaz was the symptom of the deeper systemic malaise within the ombudsman. Known for his friendly relations with at least two generations of journalists in the city, and good relations with successive Lokayuktas, Riyaz was entrenched in the organisation, and has been a “player” in the internal politics for long.

He gained clout with successive Lokayuktas by befriending their families and doing their petty personal work, an official said.

Sources said the post of PRO has been absorbed into the Lokayukta cadre along with Riyaz in the early 2000s. However, Riyaz continues to enjoy police grade promotions, the latest in February 2015, when he was promoted from a Deputy Commissioner to a Joint Commissioner. This is a clear contravention of legal procedures, sources claimed.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 7:25:08 PM |

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