Income Tax personnel and Tamil Nadu election flying squads searched a house late Tuesday evening in Thoothukudi where DMK Lok Sabha candidate Kanimozhi, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, had been staying since the start of her poll campaign. The search, on the last day of campaigning in Tamil Nadu which votes April 18, saw the team return empty-handed because the “intelligence input” that cash was stored in the house turned out to be incorrect.
The search triggered a political row with Kanimozhi saying she was being targeted because she represents the Opposition alliance.
“After an hour long search, they left my place having found nothing. As my party chief M K Stalin said, we suspect that Tamilisai (Kanimozhi’s rival candidate and BJP state president) has crores of money at her home. We have seen videos of AIADMK leaders bribing voters in Theni. Will you go and search them?” she told reporters.
DMK president Stalin slammed the Centre, accusing it of “murdering democracy”. He said the AIADMK-BJP alliance was “abusing” power and targeting Opposition leaders because it “feared defeat” this election.
A senior I-T official said the search was conducted on the basis of input from the Tuticorin district administration that the upper section of the house was being used to store cash.
The search team entered Kanimozhi’s Kuringi Nagar house in Thoothukudi around 8.30 pm. “We engaged two squads,” a senior I-T official said. The raid ended an hour later. An I-T official in Chennai said they did not find anything.
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Kanimozhi told reporters that the tax men had to return empty-handed because they could not find anything illegal in her house. “About 8.30 pm, I-T officials came and sought permission to search my place. I asked for documents and they did not have a proper answer. Still I cooperated and they completed the raid around 9.30 pm. They have asked me to reply to a list of questions. When I asked who was the target, they replied ‘Candidate’,” she said.
Stalin told reporters at Trichy airport: “Will they dare to search crores of money kept at Tamilisai Soundararajan’s house? Modi is using the I-T, CBI and now the EC too to interfere in the election process. They want to ruin this election process.”
Meanwhile, in Andipatti, which falls in Theni Lok Sabha constituency, police fired in the air when a group of men of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) tried to stop a police team from searching a building complex. The search was conducted following a tip-off about cash stored in the building. A statement by the district administration said they seized cash from the building complex and that I-T and police officers were counting the currency notes.
The Indian Express reported last week that in the last six months, at least 15 searches by the Income-Tax department have been carried out against Opposition leaders and their associates — five in Karnataka, three in Tamil Nadu, two in Andhra Pradesh, two in Delhi and one each in MP, J&K and UP. During the same period, information available in the public domain shows, searches were conducted at premises linked to one BJP functionary in Uttarakhand — the party later distanced itself from the individual.
The Election Commission had come under fire for not stepping in given that tax men were targeting mostly Opposition leaders. Last week, the poll panel reiterated its advice to the Revenue Secretary and the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) in a meeting to maintain neutrality and keep the EC informed in case of suspected use of illicit money for polls.