Law enforcement agencies on Tuesday raided the residences and properties of two top opposition leaders P Chidambaram of the Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav of the RJD as well as businessmen in a multi-city crackdown on alleged corruption and benami properties.
The searches by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax (IT) department were condemned by the opposition as “political vendetta” by the Centre with the Congress saying it will not be cowed down by the politics of “revenge” which was the “DNA of the government.”
But the NDA government hit back, saying today was the day of accountability for the “corrupt.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stoutly defended the searches, asserting that the “day of reckoning” has come for many and they will be held accountable for their misdeeds.
The CBI searched the homes and offices of Karti Chidambaram, son of P Chidambaram, a former finance minister, across four cities including Chennai for allegedly receiving money from a media firm INX owned by Indrani and Peter Mukerjea to allegedly manipulate a tax probe.
Separately, the Income Tax department conducted raids and surveys on at least 22 locations in Delhi and adjoining areas in connection with alleged benami deals stated to be worth Rs 1,000 crore linked to Lalu Prasad, who is the chief of Rashtriya Janata Dal, and some of his family members. RJD is a partner of the ruling alliance in Bihar that also comprised the JD(U) and the Congress.
CBI sleuths fanned out across the Chidambarams’ properties in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Gurugram early in the morning, a day after the agency filed an FIR against Karti, his company Chess Management Services, the Mukerjeas (currently in jail on charges of murdering their daughter Sheena Bora), INX Media, Advantage Strategic Consulting Services and its Director Padma Vishwanathan.
The FIR related to charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, receiving illegal gratification, influencing public servants and criminal misconduct. The CBI, which searched Chidambaram’s home in Nugambakkam in Chennai, also carried out searches at the house of Peter Mukerjea, a former media baron, in Mumbai, sources said.
It is alleged that Karti received money from INX Media, which was promoted by the Mukherjeas, for using his influence to manipulate a tax probe against it in a case of violation of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) conditions to receive investment from Mauritius.
P Chidambaram came out with a strong statement in response to the searches, saying the government was using the CBI and other agencies to target his son to silence his voice.
The FIPB approval was granted in “hundreds of cases”, the senior Congress leader said.
“The government, using the CBI and other agencies, is targeting my son and his friends...The government’s aim is to silence my voice and stop me from writing, as it has tried to do in the cases of leaders of opposition parties, journalists, columnists, NGOs and civil society organisations,” he said.
But he would continue to speak and write, he declared.
The five secretaries who constitute the FIPB, the officials of the FIPB secretariat and the competent authority in each case are public officials, Chidambaram said, adding that there was no allegation against any of them.
“There is no allegation against me,” he added. Karti said he has not done anything wrong and alleged a political vendetta behind the CBI raids against him in connection with the INX Media case.
“They have not seized any documents and cannot prove any charges against me. I have not done anything wrong,” Karti told reporters in Chennai.
The Congress for its part said that none of its leaders or that of the opposition would be cowed down by the politics of “revenge and vendetta” which had “become the DNA of this BJP government”.
The party accused the BJP of being blinded by revenge to target its opponents and said that it would continue to expose the saffron party before the people.
“The truth is that revenge has become the DNA of the BJP government.
“We want to reiterate that neither P Chidambaram, nor any Congress leader or any other leader of opposition, would be deterred or cowed down from fear of the politics of revenge and vendetta,” the AICC incharge of communications, Randeep Surjewala said. West Bengal chief minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee also accused the Centre of unleashing political vendetta.
Union Minister and BJP leader Piyush Goyal rejected Chidambaram’s charge that he was being targeted for his columns critical of the government and claimed that the issue was why beneficiarie of the FIPB gave “money to the firms owned by his son”.
The former union finance minister’s columns “did not exactly set the Yamuna on fire”, Goyal told reporters and took a dig at Chidambaram, saying that he will be accountable for his “son stroke.”
Rejecting allegations of political vendetta levelled by Prasad and Chidambaram, Goyal claimed that the BJP government never comes in the way of law and that investigation agencies work independently.
IT officials said the department began raiding the premises of some prominent businessmen and real estate agents in Delhi, Gurgaon, Rewari and few others since early morning in connection with alleged benami deals linked to Lalu Prasad.
In the national capital, tax department teams visited posh localities in New Friends Colony, Sainik Farms and few farmhouses in Bijwasan and south Delhi areas.
Tax department officials said some of the properties allegedly belong to the kin of Lalu Prasad in a ‘benami’ way.
Prasad, however, sought to put up a brave face, saying he was “not scared at all” and will continue to fight against the “fascist forces”.
The IT officials said the searches are also being conducted at the premises of the son of RJD MP P C Gupta and few other businessmen involved in the purchase and sale of real estate assets.
“People and businessmen connected to the land deal involving Lalu Prasad and his family are being searched. There are allegations of benami deals worth about Rs 1,000 crore and subsequent tax evasion,” an IT official claimed.