The Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday arrested Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister V Senthilbalaji in a money-laundering case, The Indian Express reported. The minister was held after being interrogated for about 18 hours.
The case pertains to allegations that Senthilbalaji conspired with transport corporation officials to appoint candidates recommended by his aides. The Enforcement Directorate alleged that crores of rupees were taken as bribes from candidates in exchange for jobs.
The alleged irregularities took place between 2014 and 2015 when Senthilbalaji was the state transport minister. He was then a leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. He joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in December 2018.
In May, the Supreme Court overturned a Madras High Court decision dismissing summons to Senthilbalaji and others in connection with the case, which was filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
On June 13, the Enforcement Directorate searched Senthilbalaji’s chambers in the state secretariat, his bungalow in Chennai and other premises linked to him in the cities of Karur and Coimbatore, according to The Hindu.
In the early hours of Wednesday, visuals from ANI showed the minister in tears as Enforcement Directorate officials took him into custody.
On Wednesday morning, visuals from the agency also showed heavy security deployed at the Karur bus stand after the Enforcement Directorate’s action.
Senthilbalaji, after being taken into custody, complained about discomfort in his chest after which he was taken to the Government Multi Super Specialty Hospital in Chennai for a medical examination. He has been admitted there.
Later in the day, the hospital said that the minister underwent a coronary angiogram, which showed that he is suffering from triple vessel disease. He has been advised a coronary artery bypass graft surgery at the earliest, the hospital added.
Several Tamil Nadu ministers, including Udhayanidhi Stalin, M Subramanian, EV Velu and S Regupathy, went to the hospital but were reportedly not allowed to meet Senthilbalaji.
Minister PK Sekar Babu claimed there were indications that he had been tortured. He added that there was a swelling near Senthilbalaji’s ear and that there were variations in his electrocardiogram, or ECG, readings.
Chief Minister MK Stalin said the DMK will take legal action against the arrest, according to The Indian Express.
Stalin described the Enforcement Directorate’s searches at Senthilbalaji chamber in the state secretariat as an assault on the principle of federalism, the Hindustan Times reported.
“The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] will learn it the hard way soon,” he said. “The silence of people who are watching the BJP’s cheap acts of vindictive politics should not be underestimated. It is nothing but the calm before the storm of 2024 [national polls] that will sweep BJP away.”
In response, state BJP chief K Annamalai shared a clip of an old speech by Stalin on the allegations against Senthilbalaji, at a time when he was with the AIADMK.
“When he was the transport minister, lakhs of people were defrauded...3 lakh for conductor and 6 lakh for mechanic in cash for job scam,” Stalin could be heard saying. “48 victims have complained on this.”
Annamalai also denied that the arrest was a vindictive action against the DMK. He said that the Enforcement Directorate had acted upon a five-year investigation into the cash-for-jobs case, according to PTI.
Meanwhile, the Secular Progressive Alliance, the ruling coalition led by the DMK, has announced a public meeting in Coimbatore on June 16 to protest Senthilbalaji’s arrest.
In a statement, the alliance claimed that the BJP was attempting to cause confusion within the Opposition. “The BJP cannot win in Tamil Nadu, and so, is attempting a back-door entry,” they said, according to The Hindu.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that Senthilbalaji’s arrest was “nothing but political harassment and vendetta” by the Narendra Modi-led government. “None of us in the Opposition will be intimidated by such brazen moves,” he said.