Gali Janardhana Reddy, former BJP minister and mining baron from Bellary, was arrested on Sunday on the charge of attempting to bribe an Enforcement Directorate official to protect a financier under investigation.
What might otherwise have been a regional bust has assumed wider ramifications because of the controversies raging around one institution after the other, especially those meant to combat corruption, in the country.
The arrest came on the eve of a Supreme Court hearing on the CBI scandal that has blown the lid off a deep rot, which appears to have been aggravated during the tenure of the Narendra Modi government after officials close to the political leadership were inducted into the federal agency.
The Reddy scandal has a parallel with the CBI controversy as attempts to promise protection from investigation in exchange for bribes are at play in both cases.
Reddy is accused of striking a Rs 18-crore bribery deal with an ED official to help Syed Ahmed Fareed, managing director of non-banking finance company Ambidant Marketing, who has been accused of swindling investors out of Rs 200 crore.
Although the “deal” appeared not to have been completed, the question the allegation raises is whether some of the most well-known federal law-enforcement agencies in the country have been reduced to little more than extortion rackets.
The Bellary baron’s “past” association with the BJP will be a millstone around the neck of the party that had stormed to power in 2014 on the anti-corruption plank.
Reddy was arrested after a marathon grilling overnight. A magistrate refused police custody and sent him to judicial remand till November 24. A sessions court will hear his bail plea on Monday.
Charged with cheating, destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy and offences under the money-laundering law, the former minister can be jailed for up to seven years if convicted.
“We arrested him on the basis of credible evidence and witness statements,” additional commissioner (crime) Alok Kumar told reporters.
Chandrashekar, Reddy’s lawyer, said his client was innocent and he was confident about securing bail.
This is Reddy’s second stint in judicial custody --- he had spent 42 months in jail after being arrested in 2011 in a mining scandal unearthed by the state lokayukta. It cost him his ministry berth and eventually his party membership.
But despite BJP chief Amit Shah saying the party had nothing to do with Reddy any more, the former minister campaigned for several BJP candidates in this year’s Karnataka elections in his “personal capacity”.
Reddy’s aide Ali Khan allegedly took delivery of a consignment of gold bars, which was to pay for the bribe, from someone close to Fareed. Khan has secured anticipatory bail from a sessions court. The police are questioning him and say they would appeal against the interim bail.Known as the “Reddy Brothers” of Bellary, Janardhana, Somashekara and Karunakara wielded enormous clout in the region. Reddy was particularly flamboyant, shuttling around in a helicopter and luxury cars.
The lokayukta report had also indicted then BJP chief minister Yeddyurappa, party leader B. Sriramulu, as well as Somashekara and Karunakara, then a BJP minister and a lawmaker, respectively.None of them was arrested or figure in the mining scam chargesheet, although Yeddyurappa spent about three weeks in custody in connection with a related land scandal.
On Sunday, Reddy was seen smiling all the way from the crime branch office to Victoria Hospital --- where he was taken for the mandatory medical examination --- to the residence of the magistrate to the prison.
Reddy has been taken to the central jail in Parappana Agrahara, 14km from the city, where former chief ministers Jayalalithaa and B.S. Yeddyurappa had been held in custody and where Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala is serving time.