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‘Proof against Ministers, police officers available in gutkha case’

28,November, 2018

Witnesses have given statements on payment of bribe, CBI tells High Court

Not ruling out the possibility of implicating Ministers and top police officials in the State in the illegal gutkha sale case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday told the Madras High Court that it had collected materials to suspect the involvement of politicians as well as police officials in the crime.

In a counter affidavit filed before Justice G.K. Ilanthiraiyan, who was seized of a bail application filed by one of the accused in the case, the CBI said it had examined as many as 25 witnesses ever since the first Division Bench of the High Court entrusted the probe to it on April 26 this year, and recorded their statements.

Huge network

“The statements have revealed illegal manufacturing and sale of gutkha and other tobacco products, manipulation of documents and bribe paid to officials of Food Safety, Central Excise, Commercial Tax, Tamil Nadu Police department, politicians etc. Further investigation is on with respect to the above facts,” the counter read. Stating that it had conducted searches in 31 places on the strength of warrants issued by the Special Court for CBI cases here and in 11 more places under powers conferred on investigating officers under Section 165 of Code of Criminal Procedure, the CBI claimed to have seized 374 documents and 63 material objects, including laptops, hard disks and pen drives.

Explaining the modus operandi adopted by the accused, the CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police Suresh Kumar said the State government had issued a notification on May 23, 2013 banning manufacture as well as sale of gutkha and pan masala in the State on the ground that the two products contained tobacco and nicotine.

On May 28, 2013, the Commissioner of Food Safety and Drug Administration issued a circular instructing Designated Officers serving under him to implement the prohibitory orders in letter and spirit. However, the present bail petitioner, P. Senthil Murugan, did not take any measures to implement the prohibition, the CBI alleged.

The petitioner had simply issued a warning notice to Jayam Indsutries, owned by the first accused in the case A.V. Madhava Rao, at Red Hills near here through the then Food Safety Officer E. Sivakumar, arrayed as the sixth accused, who, in turn, seized 150 kg of gutkha waste and 45 kg of tobacco waste from the industry on July 15, 2013.

Subsequently, all the six accused in the case entered into a criminal conspiracy and floated a firm titled Annamalai Industries at Red Hills by falsely claiming it to be owned by one S. Vignesh, who was an employee of the first accused Madhava Rao and was paid just ₹ 5,000 a month towards salary at that point of time.

Criminal conspiracy

“The above arrangement was made as a part of the criminal conspiracy so that gutkha can be manufactured continuously, even after the ban was imposed in Tamil Nadu in a covert manner,” the CBI said and accused the petitioner of having issued a licence to the new firm under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) of 2006.

On June 7, 2014, the Central Crime Branch police raided Annamalai Industries and handed over the seized products to the local Inspector of Police Sampath who handed over 7,500 kg (150 bags X 50 kg) of finished panmasala and 2,500 kg (50 bags X 50 kg) of ground tobacco dust to Sivakumar for initiating action under FSSA.

However, on June 12, 2014, Sivakumar gave back the goods to Annamalai Industries after obtaining a surety bond. He also dishonestly did not send any of those samples for chemical analysis. Instead, samples of cardamom and betel nuts collected from another premises were sent for analysis and a positive report obtained, the CBI claimed.

₹7 lakh in bribe

The court was told that the first three accused — Madhava Rao, Uma Sankar Gupta and P.V. Srinivasa Rao — had paid ₹ 7 lakh to the present bail petitioner between 2013 and 2015 and around ₹ 10,000 to ₹ 25,000 a month to Sivakumar between 2013 and 2016 “for showing the undue favour.” The fifth accused was an official of Central Excise Department. On Monday, the petitioner’s counsel sought an adjournment on the ground that he had prepared a memorandum to be submitted to Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani with a request to list the present bail petition before Justice M. Dhandapani who had dismissed as withdrawn the petitioner’s first bail application on October 22.

K. Srinivasan, Special Public Prosecutor for CBI cases, said he had no objection to get the case listed before any judge. Hence, Mr. Justice Ilanthiraiyan adjourned the matter to December 6 with a strict instruction that he would hear the matter and pass orders on that day if the petitioner was unable to obtain any relief from the Chief Justice by then.

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