Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and five other ruling Congress leaders find themselves at the heart of a political storm after they were accused on Wednesday of receiving bribes and sexual favours from the woman who conducted the so-called solar panel scam.

Biju Radhakrishnan, who is serving a life-term for murdering his wife, claimed to a judicial commission that 72-year-old Chandy had received bribe of Rs 5.5 crores and sexual favours from his business and former live-in partner Saritha S Nair for promoting their solar panel entity, known as Team Solar.

Radhakrishnan said the chief minister had also demanded a partnership in the business for his son Chandy Oommen and a 40% share of the profits. He claimed that Chandy had agreed to make available 50 acres of land in Palakkad for setting up a solar power plant and 140 acres in Idukki district for installing wind mills.

Apart from Chandy, Radhakrishnan alleged that Labour Minister Shibu Baby John, Tourism Minister AP Anil Kumar, his personal assistant Nasarulla, Congress MLA Hibi Eden and Congress leader and film maker Aryadan Shoukath also had sexual relationships with Nair.

Previous charges

The case that has come to be known as solar panel scam has already taken the toll of state forest minister KB Ganesh Kumar, who stepped down in April 2013 after his wife raised a domestic violence complaint against him in the wake of reports that he had an illicit relationship with Nair.

Sometime around 2011, Biju Radhakrishnan and Nair hit upon the plan to either promise to install solar panels for clients or to offer them shares in large solar farms. They would then pocket money and disappear. Radhakrishnan would assume various identities: he claimed to be an IPS officer, a RAW official, a consultant to the Asian Development Bank and technical advisor to Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat. They are thought to have duped their victims of at least Rs 10 crores.

Though many of their clients lost lakhs of rupees, they did not complain because they feared that the duo had powerful political connections. Moreover, many of them did not want thee sources of their money to be made public.  But in 2013, a businessman from Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district complained to the police  after the two had duped of Rs 40.5 lakhs by promising to set up a solar and windmill farm for him.

The case began with the police arresting Nair on June 3, 2013, and Biju two weeks later. Following the arrests, several victims came forward with their complaints. The police have so far registered about 40 cases involving more than Rs.10 crores.

Political dimension

The case assumed political dimension after it was found that some members of the chief minister’s personal staff and his bodyguards had been in close touch with Nair. Chandy sought to put an end to the controversy later in June 2013 by removing two personal aides and the bodyguard and ordering a judicial investigation into the scam.

However, two years later, the scam has returned to haunt Chandy and his government with Radhakrishnan's claims this week to the judicial commission headed by retired high court judge Justice G Sivarajan. Though he said that he had video footage to prove his allegations, he did not produce it before the commission. The commission has directed him to produce the material within five days.

However, Nair has denied the allegations. She asked how Radhakrishnan could produce such videos when she had no sexual relations with any of the people he mentioned had him. She said that she had always revered the chief minister as a "fatherly person".

Chandy, on his party, said that he was ready to withdraw from his public life if there was at least "1% truth" in the allegations. Labour Minister Shibhu Baby John and Tourism Minister AP Anil Kumar have also taken a similar position.

However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front opposition grouping is not ready to accept these versions. They have already mounted a massive campaign to demand the chief minister’s resignation.

CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that Radhakrishnan's allegations could not be taken lightly as it lent credence to the opposition's allegation that Chandy was directly involved in the scam.

The opposition had begun to suggest Chandy’s involvement in the scam following the revelation that he had a closed-door meeting with Radhakrishnan in a guest house in Ernakulam in 2013. Chandy admitted that the meeting had occurred, but refused to divulge details about the discussions.

Controversial meeting

“If the chief minister has nothing to hide in the matter he should disclose what had transpired between the two during the one-hour meeting,” Balakrishnan said. "Instead, he is trying to shut the mouth of Biju" Radhakrishnan.

He claimed that the government had tried to prevent Radhakrishnan from appearing before the judicial panel using the authority of the superintendent of the jail in which he is lodged. Director General of Prisons Loknath Behera, who expressed unhappiness about this decision, was soon transferred, Balakrishnan alleged.

However, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president VM Sudheeran has asked the opposition and the media to wait till Radhakrishnan submits his evidence in the case. It is unfair to crucify the chief minister before the truth is known, he said.