The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On sale: transfers in finance ministry

New Delhi, May 22: Influence peddling, Delhi’s worst-kept secret and an industry in itself, blew up in the BJP-led government’s face today as a Union minister’s aide was caught while collecting a bribe for a transfer that was cleared last night.

The aide, who was taken for a “tout” at the time of the CBI arrest, is on the personal staff of junior finance minister Gingee Ramachandran. This is the first time that a member of the personal staff of a Union minister — that too linked to a ministry as high-profile as finance — is being caught red-handed in an official sting operation.

The red-faced finance ministry scrambled to contain damage from the transfer-for-cash scandal, freezing last night’s shifting of 54 income-tax officers and ordering the review of all recent postings of revenue officers.

An official release said the brake on transfer ordered by finance minister Jaswant Singh will cover 54 deputy and assistant income-tax commissioners.

On the list of 54 was the name of Indian Revenue Service officer Anurag Vardhan, who has been arrested on charges of offering Rs 4 lakh to R. Perumalswamy, the personal assistant to Ramachandran, an MDMK leader.

CBI sleuths also rounded up a Chennai-based chartered accountant, Krishnamurthy, who is alleged to have fixed the deal on behalf of the IRS officer.

CBI officials feel that this could be just the tip of the larger corruption relating to transfers and postings in the finance ministry. Among the documents found from Perumalswamy’s house and residence were “chits” carrying names of different officers, along with the postings they wanted.

The CBI said it was acting on specific information that Vardhan, an IRS officer of 1994 batch, had approached Krishnamurthy for a transfer to Mumbai.

The deal was fixed for Rs 5 lakh and the IRS officer was asked to pay Rs 4 lakh to a “tout” today. The house of Vardhan in New Delhi was raided when the “tout” came to collect the money, a CBI spokesperson said.

Both of them were arrested and the money was seized. The CBI later realised that the tout was the first personal assistant to the Union minister.

The money was paid after the transfer orders were issued by the finance ministry last night, the spokesperson said. A fax copy of Vardhan’s transfer order and Rs 69 lakh in cash have been found at the residence of the chartered accountant in Chennai, the bureau said.

Ramachandran, who became Union minister in 1999 and whose fate in the ministry is clouded now, said late tonight in Tamil Nadu that he was innocent. His ally and coalition leader BJP termed the developments “unfortunate”.

Corruption in high places is nothing new in Delhi but rarely has a minister’s aide been caught the way Perumalswamy has been arrested today.

Last year, the CBI had raided the office and residence of the former additional private secretary to a minister on charges of amassing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. But no arrest was carried out.

Slots on ministers’ personal staff are usually divided between trusted political associates and civil servants who function as officers on special duty. The corridors of power in Delhi are abuzz with tales of how some of the political appointees operate as fixers, leaving the real work to the professional civil servants.

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