Oct. 11: The Kerala government today announced a vigilance probe against senior Congress leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy in the multi-crore solar panel scam in which a fraudulent company had allegedly collected money from people by leveraging its connections with top government officials.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a news conference in Thiruvananthapuram that the government would also investigate sexual abuse charges against some politicians whose names figured in a letter by Saritha Nair, director of Team Solar, the private company that allegedly defrauded those who invested in the venture. The letter, which Saritha wrote during her brief stint in jail, was addressed to the then United Democratic Front (UDF) government of Chandy.
In the letter dated July 19, 2013, Saritha had accused some UDF politicians of seeking sexual favours on various occasions with the promise of helping her company.
The letter accused Chandy, Congress Lok Sabha members K.C. Venugopal and Jose K. Mani, MLAs Hibi Eden, Adoor Prakash and M.P. Anil Kumar, former minister Aryadan Mohammed, former MLA A.P. Abdullakutty, former central minister and DMK leader S.S. Palanimanickam, senior police officer K. Padmakumar and Congress leader N. Subramaniam of receiving bribes. Later, Saritha had claimed that five of them had sexually exploited her.
Vijayan said cases would be pursued against all of them for offences ranging from corruption to sexual abuse.
The UDF government of Chandy had ordered a judicial commission under Justice G. Sivarajan on October 28, 2013, after the then chief minister's personal staff got embroiled in the solar scam.
Former home minister Thruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, and ex-MLAs Thambanoor Ravi and Benny Behannan will also be booked under relevant charges for allegedly misusing their official powers to pull Chandy out of the mess.
Chandy's former personal staff members Tenny Joppen, Jikkumon Jacob and Saleem Raj will be booked under anti-corruption laws.
The 2013 solar scam had kicked up a major controversy in Kerala, with the media reporting salacious details of how Saritha and some politicians allegedly used each other and how she cheated investors.
Team Solar had allegedly used two women to create political contacts with links even to the chief minister's office, duped several influential people by offering to make them business partners or install solar power units for them, and received advance payments.
Vijayan today said his Left Democratic Front (LDF) government would file a vigilance case against Chandy, against whom the commission has found "sufficient evidence" of accepting bribes from Saritha, who wanted the government to use her products for streetlights and other utilities.
Saritha expressed happiness and thanked chief minister Vijayan for the promised action. "This is justice for me, although it came after several years," she told reporters. "No woman should ever be sexually exploited by politicians," Saritha said, adding she would cooperate with the probe.
The scandal had dented the reputation and prospects of the Congress-led government ahead of the Assembly elections in May 2016 and was seen as one of the reasons for the LDF returning to power.
Chandy rubbished the allegations made by Vijayan and said neither he nor the Congress nor the UDF would be affected in any way.
"The government can do anything with the powers vested in it. But there is a judiciary above us all and we have complete faith in the judicial system," Chandy said.
Recently, a Bangalore court exonerated Chandy in a related case after an investor filed a case seeking return of his investment of Rs 1.60 crore in another company that had planned to set up a solar plant in Kerala. He had made Chandy party to the case, holding him responsible for not clearing the project and causing losses.
Referring to the solar panel scam probe ordered today, Chandy said: "I have answered every question during the 50 hours I spent with the commission."
He alleged a political move to weaken the UDF. "They will be proven wrong if they think all this can tire us. The fact is that we have not made any mistake," Chandy said, adding that the move would backfire on the LDF government.
Chandy maintains that Saritha's letter was fake and had been engineered by vested interests and that he had already filed a case against her.
All UDF constituents rallied behind Chandy and the other leaders against whom the government is set to file cases.
"This is entirely a politically motivated development as there is no merit in any of the allegations raised against the UDF leaders," Kerala Congress president Ramesh Chennithala said.
He questioned the "motive" behind the LDF government's announcement of the probe hours after polling began for the by-election to the Venghara constituency that has been vacated by UDF-constituent Indian Union Muslim League leader P.K. Kunhalikutty after becoming a Lok Sabha member.