MK Stalin, accompanied by party MLAs, addresses the media after walking out from the Assembly during the budget presentation in Chennai on Thursday. (PTI)
Chennai, March 21: The CBI today raided DMK leader M.K. Stalin’s house over alleged duty evasion in the import of a Hummer by his son Udayanidhi, barely two days after the party formally quit the UPA and the Union government.
Even as the raids were on, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram expressed disapproval and claimed he was unaware of the action, though the directorate of revenue intelligence (DRI), which comes under his ministry, was also involved.
“I strongly disapprove of the CBI action and it was bound to be misunderstood,” Chidambaram said in Delhi, aware that the raid was being viewed as tit-for-tat by the Congress given that Stalin had been seen as the brain behind the DMK’s pullout over the Lanka issue.
Suspicions were fuelled further when it emerged the probe into the alleged tax evasion was initiated a couple of years ago after the arrest of a Hyderabad car importer. Udayanidhi, a film producer and actor, has been driving the Hummer for four years.
Stalin, who had just returned home after morning walk, was surprised to see the CBI officials, TV cameras and party supporters in front of his house. “This prima facie appears to be political vendetta and we will face it legally,” he said. Later, while leaving the Assembly, he said he would pursue legal action against the CBI officials.
But Stalin’s father and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, taking note of admissions by Congress ministers Chidambaram and Kamal Nath that the raid was ill-timed, said he did not want to disbelieve the leaders’ claim that they had nothing to do with the action.
The CBI also issued a statement in Delhi saying the raids were part of an old probe. Agency officers also said Udayanidhi’s was among 17 imported cars confiscated in Chennai.
The CBI officials spent about three hours at Stalin’s residence in central Chennai, where his son also lives, collecting papers of the Hummer from Udayanidhi. The 35-year-old said his Hummer was at a service station at the time of the swoop and was seized by the agency officials later. CBI officials said the probe was started after the arrest of a Hyderabad-based car importer.
According to an agency officer, 30 luxury cars were imported from different countries, the provisions of the transfer of resident norms abused and customs duty to the tune of Rs 20 crore not paid by the beneficiaries in collusion with Muruganandham, a senior DRI officer. A case of conspiracy was filed against Muruganandham, car importer Alex Joseph and others.
“Even after the red flags were raised, DRI officials did not take action either to recover the tax or confiscate the cars. We have confiscated 17 imported cars in and around Chennai, including that of Udayanidhi Stalin,” a CBI officer said.
CBI sources said Joseph imported high-end cars claiming they would be used in the hospitality industry — for which duty concession is offered — but later transferred them to individual buyers after declaring them used cars.
Udayanidhi purchased the Hummer from Alex. “We only went to inspect and impound the cars and Udayanidhi’s was among the 17 vehicles we impounded today. We are looking for more such cars in Chennai,” the CBI officer said.
The DMK’s first family is fond of imported luxury cars. Udayanidhi’s father Stalin has a Range Rover. Stalin’s elder brother Alagiri owns Land Rover. Stalin’s-son-in law Sabareesan has a BMW. Karunanidhi travels in a specially imported Toyota that has a motorised unit to accommodate his wheelchair. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi owns a Toyota Camry.