Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday wrote to the Election Commission of India, complaining that the Model Code of Conduct in the state was being “torpedoed” by some Union ministers, reported The Times of India. He was referring to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Vijayan’s letter to the poll body came a day after the Enforcement Directorate summoned top officials of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board, or KIIFB, the state government’s body for mobilising funds for infrastructure projects. Unidentified officials said on Tuesday that a case has been registered and notices sent to the KIIFB Chief Executive Officer KM Abraham and Deputy Managing Director Vikramjit Singh, according to The Indian Express.
The case relates to the KIIFB allegedly violating provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act. “The issue is related to FEMA [Foreign Exchange Management Act] violations in connection with KIIFB raising Rs 2,150 crore masala bonds listed on the London Stock Exchange,” a central agency official said. “Prima facie, there are violations of FEMA.”
In his letter, Vijayan held Sitharaman responsible for the developments in the case. “Summoning of KIIFB [Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board] officials came close on the heels of her speech against the Kerala body-corporate in a recent poll rally in the state,” Vijayan said. “The prudent conclusion that can be drawn is that the undue hurry, haste and leakage of information to the media by the officials of the ED are motivated by partisan political reasons.”
Vijayan told the poll body that the Enforcement Directorate functions under the Union Ministry of Finance. The chief minister alleged that the news of summoning government officials was being “misused” to spread media propaganda ahead of the April 6 Assembly elections in the state.
Vijayan alleged that the summons were aimed at creating a “smear campaign” against officials and the Kerala government. “The very purpose of public trust deposed on officials is being betrayed due to the action of the Union finance minister,” he alleged.
The chief minister also claimed that some government officials, including women, were subjected to “intemperate behaviour” by investigating officers of the Kochi unit of the central agency. Vijayan also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of wrong using the central agency for electoral gains.
“The rules laid down for the conduct of free and fair elections were being contravened and this warranted the intervention by the EC [Election Commission] so that central investigating agencies like the enforcement directorate follow the statute in letter and spirit and act in a politically neutral manner,” he wrote to the poll panel.
Meanwhile, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac called the summons a “poll gimmick”, reported the Hindustan Times. “The ED was cooking up stories without even understanding the KIIFB,” he said. “Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was using central agencies to target the state.”
Issac also called the central agency’s actions a “conspiracy” of the BJP and alleged that an ED official, the son of a senior leader of the saffron party, was given the case to go after the state government during election time.
“The ED’s move is a violation of poll code,” the state finance minister added. “The Union minister [Sitharaman] also violated the poll code and it will be resisted with the support of the people.”
Vijayan is the chairman of the KIIFB. Abraham, the CEO of the government body, has been a whole-time member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India from 2008 to 2011.
Unidentified ED officials have said their investigations found that the KIIFB earned over Rs 2,100 crore by issuing bonds for infrastructure projects, but the money was used by cultural, forestry, fisheries and tourism departments.
They said the preliminary investigation showed that the bonds were issued without the permission of the Centre, which is in violation of rules, as foreign debt cannot be raised without the Union government’s nod.
Besides Abraham and Singh, ED has also summoned two Axis bank executive directors for questioning in connection with the case. While Singh will appear before ED on Thursday, Abraham has been called in on Friday.