The alleged extortion racket in the Karnataka Lokayukta continued to unravel on Wednesday with a Special Investigation Team (SIT) arresting two persons — journalist M B Shivarame Gowda and RTI activist V Shankare Gowda — for reportedly supplying information to a gang for targeting state officials.
The gang is alleged to have used fake identities, RTI applications and covert means to extort Rs 1 crore from an executive engineer, M N Krishnamurthy, on May 4. Ashwin Rao, son of Lokayukta Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, a former chief justice of Karnataka, has been named as the prime accused.
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The SIT, constituted by the Congress government on the request of the Lokayukta, began the investigation about 10 days ago. A realtor, Ashok Kumar, was arrested on Tuesday.
Shivarame Gowda, who earlier worked with Kannada channel ETV, owns a chain of restaurants. He and Shankare Gowda have been booked for extortion, criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption.
The duo are alleged to have filed RTIs to obtain the identities of government officials handling costly projects — including engineering, construction and land projects. Based on this information, their associates in the Lokayukta are reported to have threatened these officials with corruption proceedings and extorted money from them.
The arrests were made on the basis of call detail records of a cellphone (9066029213) that was allegedly used by Ashok Kumar to summon Krishnamurthy, Bengaluru Urban zilla parishad executive engineer, to the Lokayukta office on May 4. According to officials, an SMS was sent from this number to Krishnamurthy on that day saying, “Hi, I tried calling you. Please call back when you are free’’.
When the engineer called the number, a man reportedly identified himself as a Lokayukta joint commissioner and asked him to report to the Lokayukta office.
According to Krishnamurthy, when he reached the Lokayukta’s office, a man who identified himself as Krishna Rao allegedly told him that a report had been received against him alleging irregularities in implementation of MP and MLA local area development schemes.
Krishnamurthy was reportedly told to pay Rs 1 crore to avoid corruption proceedings against him. Krishnamurthy later identified the man as the Lokayukta’s son, Ashwin Rao. The SIM card was found to have been obtained using the fake credentials of a woman, Nagarathna, from rural Bengaluru.
The SIT probe headed by Additional Director General of Police Kamal Pant has been hampered by the absence of CCTV footage for the day that Krishnamurthy was summoned to the Lokayukta office. The office of the Lokayukta claimed that the CCTV system could not record during the period.
Denying the charges, an advocate who appeared for Shankare Gowda in the special Lokayukta court on Wednesday said: “He (Shankare Gowda) is a well educated person. He was filing RTIs on government officials but that does not mean he was involved in any racket.”
Advocate Pramod Chandra, who filed a bail plea for Shivarame Gowda, argued that the arrest was valid only if it was part of the investigation into Krishnamurthy’s complaint, and said his client could not be arrested for alleged links to the larger internal corruption in the Lokayukta. The special Lokayukta court sent the duo to SIT custody till June 30.
Meanwhile, the BJP alleged in the state legislature last week that Ashwin Rao and his accomplices had extorted about Rs 200 crore from 169 government officials by threatening them with corruption proceedings. The state government has been accused of shielding the Lokayukta by not seeking his resignation.