What is Kerala’s “solar panel scam”?
It is a bunch of cheating cases, in which a couple, Biju Radhakrishnan and Saritha S Nair, are central characters. They had floated a firm called Team Solar, headquartered in Kochi, which promised to provide solar energy solutions to households and offices, and to erect windmill projects. Scores of people paid the company to get solar panels on their premises; others invested several lakhs to become “partners” in a wind energy project.
How did the scam come to light?
A Gulf returnee, A Sajad, of Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district, complained in early 2013 that the couple had taken Rs 40 lakh from him as consultation fee to make him the owner of three windmills generating 850 MW of power. Saritha Nair had managed to convince him. The couple produced forged documents on the letterhead of the Chief Minister, and boasted of high connections. But when things did not move as promised, Sajad complained to the local police, leading to the arrest of Nair in early June 2013. Soon, similar cheating cases were reported from across Kerala. About two dozen cases surfaced against the duo, involving financial transactions in the range of Rs 10 crore to Rs 12 crore.
How did the allegations reach Chief Minister Oommen Chandy?
Nair’s call details showed Chandy’s personal assistant Tenni Joppen had been in constant touch with her. A week before her arrest, Nair had exchanged 68 calls and SMSes with Joppen. The records also showed Nair had made frequent calls to the landline at Chandy’s office. Chandy at that time used Joppen’s mobile phone, which gave rise to the suspicion that Nair had been in touch with the CM also. After a probe into a cheating case in Pathanamthitta threw up evidence of Joppen’s involvement, he was arrested as an accused.
Besides Joppen, Chandy’s long-time security guard, Salim Raj, and another personal assistant Jikkumon Jacob, too came under a cloud. Thomas Kuruvila, who used to unofficially work as Chandy’s facilitator in Delhi, also figured in Nair’s list of contacts. All three were removed from the CM’s office.
Who else was allegedly involved?
As the probe widened, more important people were touched. Nair’s call details showed she had been in touch with several Congress ministers, their staff, other politicians, and officials.
State Public Relations Director A Firoz was suspended for alleged links to the scam. He had allegedly introduced the couple to a businessman named Salim Basheer, from whom they had taken Rs 40 lakh on the promise of a loan from the ADB.
Nair’s mobile phone call details showed that ministers Adoor Prakash, A P Anil Kumar, K B Ganesh Kumar and Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, Congress legislators Hybi Eden and A P Abdullakutty, and Kerala Congress MLA Mons Jacob had been in touch with her. Congress MP K C Venugopal and Kerala Congress (M)’s Jose K Mani too appeared to have been in contact with Nair.
Biju Radhakrishnan has told a judicial commission that he had paid bribes to K C Venugopal, K B Ganesh Kumar and Kerala power minister Aryadan Muhammed to get projects for Team Solar. Nair had brought an allegation of rape against the Congress’s A P Abdullakutty last year.
What is the latest twist in the case?
Biju Radhakrishnan has told the judicial commission that he had given a bribe of Rs 5.5 crore to Chief Minister Chandy, and that ministers A P Anil Kumar and Shibu Baby John, Minister Kumar’s personal secretary Nazeerulla, legislator Hybi Eden, Congress leader Aryadan Shoukkath and Chandy himself had had sexual relationships with Nair. Both Chandy and his party have rejected the allegations.