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The gutkha scam in Tamil Nadu

Gutkha scam: ‘secret letter’ found in Jaya’s house

I-T department tells court that it contains information about alleged bribes paid to Health Minister, former Police Commissioner

January 13, 2018 01:20 am | Updated 07:39 am IST - Chennai

Fresh revelation:  The I-T department said the letter was found at V.K. Sasikala’s room at Veda Nilayam.

Fresh revelation: The I-T department said the letter was found at V.K. Sasikala’s room at Veda Nilayam.

In a startling revelation, the Income Tax department on Friday told the Madras High Court that it had recovered from Veda Nilayam, the residence of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in Poes Garden, a “secret letter” regarding the multi-crore gutkha scam it had written to the then Director-General of Police, Ashok Kumar, and the then Chief Secretary, P. Rama Mohana Rao.

The letter was recovered from the room occupied by V.K. Sasikala, close aide of Jayalalithaa (now in prison), during a search conducted by the I-T Department in November last year.

The “secret letter” contained information about the alleged bribes paid to Health Minister C. Vijaya Baskar, the then Commissioner of Police and others by Madhava Rao, a partner of a gutkha manufacturing firm (MDM), to carry on the illegal sale of banned tobacco products in Chennai. The I-T department’s submission was made in a counter affidavit filed before the first Division Bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose, who were seized of a public interest litigation petition filed by the DMK for constitution of a special investigation team primarily comprising officers drawn from the CBI, to probe the scam.

The affidavit debunks the State’s submission that no I-T department report on the gutkha scam existed in record, which had prompted the Madurai Bench of the High Court to order an inquiry by the DVAC into the missing documents.

Appearing on behalf of the DMK, senior counsel P. Wilson contended that the counter affidavit nailed their claim of Ministers and police officers having been bribed by the gutkha manufacturers. He urged the court to take the counter affidavit on file and list the case for early hearing. Acceding to his request, the judges directed the High Court Registry to list the case for January 17.

Sworn statement

The counter affidavit filed by Susie Babu Varghese, Principal Director (Investigation), Income Tax, Chennai, said that Madhava Rao had, in a sworn statement before its officials, stated that “he had paid a sum of ₹ 56 lakh to the Health Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu, between the period April 1, 2016 and June 15, 2016... He stated that the payments were made to various officials and explained that the abbreviation of HM and CP referred to the Health Minister of Tamil Nadu and Commissioner for Police, respectively.”

The I-T department had conducted searches on the residential and business premises of gutkha manufacturers, including Madhava Rao, in July 2016 when it recovered incriminating documents suggesting that bribes were paid.

Following this, the I-T department’s Principal Director on August 11, 2016, wrote to the then Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police.

Pointing out that those “secret letters” were submitted before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court too during the hearing of another case related to the gutkha scam in July 2017, Mr. Varghese said: “During another search conducted on November 17, 2017 in the rooms occupied by V.K. Sasikala in Veda Nilayam... a note dated September 2, 2016 signed by the then DGP [and] addressed to the then Chief Minister, along with a copy of the secret letter... was found and seized.”

Recently, former Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao confirmed to The Hindu that the I-T department had indeed submitted a report to the government. He had forwarded it to Jayalalithaa and that she wanted to take action against the erring persons. The scam was exposed by The Hindu in its report ‘I-T probe unearths payment of bribes to TN Minister, officials for gutkha sale’ published on June 27, 2017.

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