The Madras High Court raised concerns regarding the ongoing ministership of V Senthil Balaji, who was arrested 230 days ago in a money laundering case. Judge Anand Venkatesh, while postponing Balaji’s bail petition hearing, questioned his lawyer: “How can a minister, even without a portfolio, continue in office after such serious accusations? Imagine a judge in a similar situation – would they keep their position?”
In an ongoing legal saga, the Chennai city court extended the remand of Tamil Nadu Minister Senthil Balaji, arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering (PMLA) case since July 14 last year, until January 29. The ED, opposing Balaji’s plea to defer framing of charges, filed a 3000-page charge sheet against him, alleging a delay tactic. Balaji argued that charges couldn’t be framed until the special court for cases against MPs and MLAs acknowledged the alleged predicate offence. Despite 17 extensions, the Principal Sessions Judge S Alli extended his judicial custody until January 31.
Simultaneously, Balaji filed a bail petition before the Madras High Court, seeking release. The lower court and the HC had previously rejected his bail pleas. The Principal Sessions Judge (PSJ) posted the case for framing charges on February 14 but encountered a petition raising legal issues.
On January 30, Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court, addressing the second bail petition, questioned the societal message of keeping a minister arrested by ED in a PMLA case without a portfolio for over 230 days. He emphasised equality under the law, citing the suspension of a lower-stage government employee within 48 hours of imprisonment. The judge posted the matter for February 14, ordering ED to respond.
Earlier in January, a bench of Justices A S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan, while refusing to interfere under Article 136, concurred with the high court’s view on Balaji’s continuance in the state cabinet despite being in jail and stripped of a portfolio. Balaji’s arrest in June 2023 led to his being removed from portfolios by Chief Minister Stalin but retained as a minister. Advocate RL Ravi moved the Madras High Court, challenging Balaji’s retention in the cabinet.
The legal wrangling continues as Balaji seeks bail amidst charges of money laundering, raising broader questions about the implications of holding public office while facing serious criminal accusations. The repeated denial of bail, the extension of remand, and the nuanced legal arguments underscore the complexity of the case, affecting both the political and legal landscapes in Tamil Nadu. The court’s scrutiny of the minister’s continued tenure without a portfolio adds an intriguing dimension to the unfolding legal drama.