The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a charge sheet against Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji in a money laundering case. The charge sheet, spanning over 3,000 pages, asserts that Balaji and his associates accrued illicit assets totalling Rs 67.7 crore by exploiting his official position during his tenure as the transport minister in the AIADMK government between 2011 and 2016.
After Chennai district principal session court and the special court for cases against MPs and MLAs expressed its inability to hear the case as they lacked the jurisdiction, Senthil Balaji counsel moved to Madras High Court on August 31. When his counsel made an urgent mention of the case before a division bench comprising justices M Sundar and R Sakthivel, they advised them to approach the CJ for necessary orders.
Justice Sundar said “how the bench could hear the plea as his co judge on the bench, Justice Sakthivel already recused himself from hearing a habeas corpus petition moved by his wife. The minister was arrested on June 14 by the ED after the searches. He was questioned for five days when he was in its custody. On August 28, Special Judge K Ravi, before whom Balaji was produced physically by the jail authorities, served a copy of the charge sheet, running to about 3,000 pages including more than 2,000 pages of annexure and 168-170 pages of operational documents, arraigning Balaji as an accused. Filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) earlier. the judge also extended the remand of Balaji to judicial custody till September 15.
Meanwhile, the chargesheet explains the complex modus operandi adopted by the minister and his associates in the cash-for-jobs scam. The scam took place when he was transport minister in the AIADMK government between 2011 and 2016. DMK made it a big issue , petitioned the Governor and filed cases seeking action including his dismissal. Things have changed.
Senthil Balaji, an habitual hopper, joined DMK before the 2021 assembly polls and was given a seat to contest. Now the same DMK is going all out to protect him and are calling him innocent. After the SC’s directions , ED raided premises of Senthil Balani, including his office at the secretariat, his relatives, friends and associates. Income tax officials have also conducted raids. When ED arrested him, there was a drama, the minister complained of chest pain. His subsequent hospitalisation, alleged surgery to remove blocks in his heart, discharge after a month back to jail in a cosy room with all luxuries is a story.
The ED has filed a charge sheet in the case. It delves in depth of the case, the illegal assets worth Rs 67.7 crore and how he had exploited his official capacity for personal gain through corrupt and illegal activities. Balaji channelled cash through his brother and accomplices, which was supported by digital evidence found during the investigation, adding that the records outlined cash collections and job placements.
It states “Upon instructions of Arun Raveendra Daniel, senior deputy manager, human resources department, MTC, and Anand Raj, senior assistant to superintendent of personnel section, a list of eligible candidates was forwarded in a CD format to Shanmugam, unofficial personal assistant of V Senthil Balaji. After receiving cash from candidates, the list of approved candidates was sent by Shanmugam to Anand Raj irrespective of the numbers they secured. Rs 3 lakh was collected for each post of RC driver, RS 4 lakh each for RC collector and junior tradesman,Rs10-15 lakh for junior engineer and Rs15-20 lakh for assistant engineer”.
It said “Investigation unveiled tampering in candidate marks, favouring those who paid bribes to the accused. Proceeds of the criminal activities were then laundered, involving layering and integration into the mainstream through cash deposits and subsequent utilization. Consequently, the accused knowingly engaged in activities related to money laundering, connecting him directly to the process and the offense of handling illicit proceeds” .
It also said Balaji directly acquired the proceeds of the crime by depositing them in the bank accounts of his family members or associates for use or protection as untainted money.Explaining further the modus operandi , the candidates were evaluated for 100 marks (75 marks for a written test and 25 marks for interview) the interview marks were noted in pencil by the committee. The selected candidates’ marks were increased, while the marks of non-selected candidates were decreased below 10. Signatures were taken from the interview committee a year after for legitimizing the manipulated marks. The ED has recorded statements of mediators collecting money and handing it over to Senthil Balaji at his official residence. “ Though Shanmuguam and Karthikeyan have claimed that they do not know Senthil Balaji, a senior deputy manager of MTC, Arun Raveendra Daniel, has given a statement that both worked as Senthil Balaji’s personal assistants”, it says.
The charge sheets says “Various incriminating excel sheets that contain data related to incriminating email communications among minister and his PAs and officials of MTC/TNSTCs regarding the recruitment of jobs at MTC/TNSTCs were also found,”. In defence for its case, it has cited several electronic pieces of evidence collected, including a pen drive found at Senthil Balaji’s residence, having details of money transactions.
The ED charge sheet details how the proceeds of the scam amounted up to RS 67.74 crore were found in the pen drive. It also recorded what had happened during the interrogation and his behaviour. “During his five-day custody, Senthil Balaji is not cooperative. He gave evasive replies about the spike in his bank account and that of his wife soon after the scam period in 2015 and about his personal assistants- Shanmugam and Karthikeyan”. ED said it has traced the letters written from Senthil Balaji’s office to Southern Railway to confirm tickets for various train trips Senthil Balaji made with both of them. “These communications contained in the Excel sheets clearly indicate the status of candidates’ recruitment in terms of ‘list received or not’; ‘order issued or not’; ‘order despatched or not’ etc., for the purpose of tracking the allotment of orders after receiving illicit gains from the job aspirants,” the ED said.