The CBI on Friday registered a case to probe alleged Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) violations in a housing scheme for the poor, which is part of the Kerala government’s flagship project Life Mission, being constructed with financial aid from Emirates Red Crescent.
Emirates Red Crescent is the UAE affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The CBI case, pertaining to criminal conspiracy and FERA violations, will probe the deal for the construction of a 140-apartment complex at Wadakkanchery in Thrissur district, signed between Red Crescent and Kerala-based UNITAC.
The FIR names UNITAC managing director Santhosh Eapen as one of the accused, and the CBI searched his premises soon after registering the case.
The scam involving Life Mission’s one of the projects surfaced as an offshoot of the gold smuggling case pertaining to diplomatic cargo to the UAE Consulate in Kerala. The key accused in the smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, confessed to the ED and NIA that Rs 4.25 crore had been paid as commission in the housing project, and she also pocketed a part of the kickbacks.
The Opposition raised corruption charges against the LDF government, which initially remained adamant against any probe, saying the deal was between the builder and the UAE agency. On Wednesday, the government ordered an investigation by the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau into the scam. But the Congress demanded a CBI probe into the issue and party legislator Anil Akkara moved a complaint with the CBI, alleging an anomaly of Rs 9 crore in the Rs 20-crore project implemented at his constituency of Wadakkancherry.
The Central agency took over the case on Friday.
The CBI stepping into the investigation is a severe setback for the LDF government as three other Central agencies — the ED, NIA and Customs — are probing various aspects of the gold smuggling scandal and have already brought the state’s Higher Education Minister, K T Jaleel, under the ambit of their investigations.
Leader of the Opposition and Congress MLA Ramesh Chennithala has sought the resignations of CM Pinarayi and Local Administration Minister A C Moideen, who is vice-chairman of Life Mission. “They cannot dodge responsibility in the scam. CBI probe would bring out corruption. Things are heading to a stage that the Chief Minister would be questioned by CBI,” he said.
However, the CPI(M) state secretariat said the CBI probe was politically motivated. “It shows the BJP is misusing investigating agencies for their political end. The probe order is an outcome of a nexus between the Congress and the BJP. The case was registered violating all precedents,” the party secretariat said in a statement.
The MoU for the housing project at Wadakkanchery was signed between Red Crescent and Kochi-based private builder UNITAC on July 11, 2019 in Thiruvananthapuram by the project’s CEO U V Jose and representatives of Red Crescent in presence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is the chairman of Life Mission.
After the scandal surfaced along the side-lines of the gold smuggling scandal, it was alleged that senior IAS officer M Sivasankar had intervened to rush the deal. Sivasankar was the former principal secretary to the Chief Minister and was recently removed over his links with key accused Swapna Suresh.
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