‘Antique fraud’s’ friend at Kerala government’s NRI meet
The presence of an Italy-based Malayali at an annual state government event for NRIs this weekend in Thiruvananthapuram has rekindled interest in one of the major scandals to have rocked the state in recent times.
Anitha Pullayil, who was seen at the just-concluded third Loka Kerala Sabha, had last October faced allegations that she had helped self-styled antiques dealer Monson Mavunkal defraud several buyers. She had also allegedly introduced Mavunkal to senior police officers and he had used these connections to cheat buyers. Mavunkal is in jail in connection with several cases.
Mavunkal had allegedly raised funds running into crores from many in Kerala, claiming that he was in possession of antiques such as Tipu Sultan’s throne, the staff of Moses and two of the 30 silver coins for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. The CBI is inquiring into the case, which is dormant now.
Mavunkal was arrested last September after six of his alleged victims jointly complained to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan claiming they had been swindled out of Rs 10 crore.
Once Pullayil was spotted by some journalists moving around freely on the premises of the Assembly where the two-day meeting was held, security men quickly evicted her from the venue.
Although Norka, the state body looking after the affairs of non-resident Malayalis, has clarified that Pullayil was not among those invited to the Sabha, it has refused to put out the list of delegates who attended the meet.
Assembly Speaker M.B. Rajesh, however, has promised to find out how Pullayil could enter the premises without being an invitee.
During the two-day event, entry was allowed only to delegates, journalists, special invitees and members of the Kerala Assembly.
The Left Front government had come under the scanner over the alleged involvement of many top-rung police officers with the wheeling dealing of Mavunkal, and the ruling CPM’s alleged role in dragging state Congress president K. Sudhakaran into the controversy. Sudhakaran, according to the CPM, was a regular at Mavunkal’s house in Kochi. An array of police officers has also allegedly been to Mavunkal’s house, many of whom have been pictured sitting on what has been claimed to be Tipu’s throne.
One of chief minister Vijayan’s favourite police officers, retired DGP Loknath Behera, is at the centre of the controversy after being purportedly pictured with Mavunkal. Behera is currently managing director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), a position that many consider a gift from Vijayan.
In Vijayan’s previous term, it was his then closest aide, the then principal secretary M. Sivasankar, who had got the chief minister’s office entangled in a gold smuggling case involving the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, investigations into which are going on and new revelations still being made.
Questions have been raised on the possible involvement of politicians in Mavunkal’s case after it was revealed that police officers at the level of DGP had helped him allegedly defraud many to the tune of crores of rupees. It has been claimed that many who are members of the Loka Kerala Sabha have close links with Mavunkal.
The Sabha, a multi-crore annual jamboree, is supposed to thrash out the problems faced by the lakhs of ordinary Malayalis who work in the Gulf countries. However, it is alleged that nothing concrete has come out of these gatherings as they are not represented by those Malayalis who toil during their lifetime in the desert kingdoms.
The Sabha had come under criticism in the past too with the Opposition Congress-led UDF boycotting the event in January 2020, saying it was just a forum to felicitate those who sing paeans to the CPM, and Vijayan in particular. This time also the Opposition stayed away, alleging the meeting was an additional burden on the already precarious financial condition of the government.