A WEEK after Oommen Chandy told a judicial panel probing the solar scam that he had met Saritha S Nair only thrice, the key accused has claimed that she met the Kerala Chief Minister several times and was close to his family.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Saritha said, “I was never a stranger to him or his family. I had the freedom to enter his house anytime… the kind of freedom to enter another person’s kitchen, I was that close. I was a frequent visitor.”
When contacted, Chandy said, “These days, the media gives too much importance to her statements. These are all false claims.”
Saritha said that she grew “close” to Chandy’s family after she was released from a six-month term in jail in 2011 following complaints of cheating that linked her to a solar equipment firm run by her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan.
Read: All about the solar scam
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“During that period (after 2011), I had a house at Edapazhanji near Jagathy (in Thiruvananthapuram), which was hardly two kilometres from his bungalow. When his wife (Mariamma Oommen) fell sick and was advised bed rest (in late 2011), I used to visit her. I wanted to nurse her back to health but I was busy with a lot of work. Still, I visited her whenever it was possible,” she said.
Saritha also claimed that she never needed a security pass to enter the Chief Minister’s bungalow as she was “familiar to everyone there” who addressed her as “Lakshmi”, the name that her relatives and friends used to call her.
Asked to recall details of her meetings with Chandy and his family, Nair said, “Sometime in August 2012, Mariamma Oommen organised a prayer meeting at the CM’s bungalow, which was attended by me and a few other women from her inner circle. She prayed for me, too, in that meeting.”
Another “good memory”, Saritha said, was of Chandy’s “naughty grandson” — the child of his daughter Maria — who used to play football with “almost everyone” who came home.
“There used to be a lot of visitors always… I have never seen the family having lunch or dinner together. Everyone would be busy. Whoever wanted to have food would go into the kitchen and serve themselves,” she said, adding that she had tea with the family “on many occasions”.
Saritha also recalled the Easter morning of 2013 when, she claimed, Chandy called to wish her and invite her home. “He was travelling from Puthuppally (his howe town) to Thiruvananthapuram that day. He called me at around 7.30-8 am from a gunman’s phone. (But) he assigned another job too, so I was not able to reach his home that day,” she said.
Saritha also claimed that she had taken her daughter — now a kindergarten student — to Chandy’s house, at least twice. “(They were) mostly friendly visits. Once, I took her to file a complaint against Biju Radhakrishnan, sometime in February 2013,” she said.
As investigations into the solar scam gathered pace, Saritha initially denied that Chandy had any role to play in her business dealings and has since described him as a “father figure”.
But on January 27, she told the judicial commission that she had allegedly paid a bribe of Rs 1.90 crore to the Chief Minister through his personal aides to set up mega power projects in the state. The allegations come a day after Chandy refused to undergo a lie-detector test while deposing before the commission.
Chandy has changed his statements on his alleged association with Saritha at least half-a-dozen times since the Opposition first raised allegations of links between the CM’s office and the accused in June 2013.
* After saying that he did not know Saritha at all, Chandy was forced to backtrack after a photo of him talking to her on a stage was leaked. Then, he claimed that he knew her as Lakshmi Nair and denied any further links.
* While deposing before the commission, Saritha claimed that she met Chandy on December 27, 2012 in Delhi. She alleged that she paid Rs 1.10 crore, as the first instalment of a Rs 1.90-crore bribe, to Chandy’s Delhi-based unofficial aide Thomas Kuruvilla on the same day. Chandy said he was in Delhi two days later but did a U-turn after Kuruvilla told the panel that Saritha had sought permission to meet Chandy on December 27.
* Chandy had also denied meeting Saritha along with Sreedharan Nair, a quarry owner and one of the complainants in the scam. But Kerala’s Intelligence ADGP A Hemachandran told the commission that Saritha had met the Chief Minister in his office along with Nair, who is also a relative of state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. Chandy then said he had met Nair but could not recall if Saritha had come along with him.