A second Enforcement Directorate official has been arrested on bribery charges within a month, raising queries over the functioning of a central investigative agency already buffeted by charges of doing the Narendra Modi government’s bidding to target its critics and political opponents.
The development comes at a time when the ED, which mainly probes money-laundering, has been investigating several high-profile cases involving politicians, mostly from the Opposition.
A senior ED official, Ankit Tiwari, was arrested in Madurai on Friday for allegedly demanding and accepting a bribe of Rs 20 lakh from a government employee, according to the directorate of vigilance and anti-corruption (DVAC), the anti-graft agency of the Tamil Nadu government.
The ED had till Saturday evening not issued any statement on the arrest.
On November 2, the Rajasthan anti-corruption bureau (ACB) arrested ED official Naval Kishore Meena and an alleged associate on the charge of accepting a bribe of Rs 15 lakh to settle a matter relating to a chit fund scam. The ED has suspended Meena.
The Congress flagged the arrests to taunt the BJP on the subject of the alleged misuse of the ED for political purposes, saying “one of the superstar campaigners of the BJP has stumbled yet again, this time in Tamil Nadu”.
An official source said that Tiwari, a 2016-batch IRS officer, was “serving as an officer in the Madurai ED office of the Union government”.
On Saturday, DVAC sleuths raided the Madurai ED office and Tiwari’s residence as central paramilitary forces stood guard outside.
A DVAC official said Tiwari had in October alerted a state government employee from Dindigul, Madurai, about a vigilance case registered against him.
“The accused official also informed the said employee that instructions had been received from the Prime Minister’s Office to conduct an inquiry and asked the government employee to appear before the ED office at Madurai on October 30,” the DVAC official said.
When the man came to Madurai, Tiwari allegedly asked him to pay Rs 3 crore if he wanted to escape legal action in the case. The bribe amount was later haggled down to Rs 51 lakh and on November 1, the government employee gave Tiwari a sum of Rs 20 lakh as the first instalment, the DVAC has alleged.
On Thursday, the government employee lodged a complaint with the Dindigul district vigilance and anti-corruption unit. The following day, DVAC sleuths arrested Tiwari as he allegedly received the sum of Rs 20 lakh from the complainant.
Sources in the DVAC said a probe had revealed that Tiwari had, with his team of ED officials, threatened several people and collected bribes promising to close their cases.
Tamil Nadu’s DMK government has accused the Modi government of using the ED and the income-tax department to “harass” its officials and elected representatives ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The ED had arrested state minister V. Senthil Balaji on June 14 on money-laundering charges in a case dating back to 2014. In July, the agency had questioned higher education minister K. Ponmudi and his son Gautham Sigamani, an MP, in a sand-mining case.
The Rajasthan ACB said a person had lodged a complaint saying Meena, an ED officer posted in Manipur, had demanded Rs 17 lakh in exchange for not attaching his property and not arresting him in connection with a chit fund scam in Imphal.
ACB sleuths arrested Meena and his purported accomplice, Babulal Meena, in Jaipur while they were allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 15 lakh.
An estimated 95 per cent of all the prominent politicians raided, booked, arrested or questioned by the ED since the Modi government came to power in 2014 have been from the Opposition ranks. The ED reports to the Union finance ministry’s department of revenue.