Chennai: Continuing its probe into the multi-crore gutkha scam, the CBI on Wednesday raided the residences of Tamil Nadu Health Minister C. Vijayabasker and Director General of Police (DGP) T.K. Rajendran and several others here and in some other cities including Mumbai and Bengaluru.
"Separate CBI teams conducted simultaneous raids at 35 locations in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu and Mumbai, Bengaluru, Punducherry and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh since early morning," Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokesperson Abhishek Dayal told IANS in New Delhi.
This is the first time the residence of a serving DGP in Tamil Nadu has been raided by the CBI.
According to agency sources, raids were also conducted at the residences of former Minister B.V. Ramanaa and retired Chennai Police Commissioner S.George, ACP M.Mannan and Inspector Sampath Kumar.
They said the searches were also carried out at the residences and premises of the senior officials of the Central Excise department, state sales tax department and officials of the Food Safety and Drug Administration officials.
The premises of promoters of Jayam industries A.V. Madhav Rao, Umashankar Gupta and Sreenivas Rao were also searched.
Agency sources claimed that several incriminating documents were recovered during the raids.
The CBI action prompted M.K. Stalin, leader of the main opposition DMK, to appleal to Governor Banwarilal Purohit for sacking Vijayabaskar and Rajendran if they do not resign on their own.
PMK founder S. Ramadoss also demanded the removal of Vijayabaskar and all other raided officials from their posts.
The CBI in May-end had registered a case in the scam against unknown officials of Central Excise, Tamil Nadu government, Food Safety Department, public servants and private persons on charges of criminal conspiracy and for corruption following a direction of the Madras High Court on April 26.
The agency has been investigating all aspects of the offence of illegal manufacture, import, supply, distribution and sale of gutkha and other forms of chewable tobacco which are banned in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
In April 2018, the Madras High Court ordered the CBI to probe the multi-crore scam, alleging the involvement of Vijayabaskar, Rajendran and several other top police and other central and state government officials.
The court ordered the CBI probe on a petition filed by DMK legislator J. Anbazhagan.
"The probe seems to be proceeding on the right track under the CBI. Whether a case will be filed against the scamsters or not will have to be seen," Anbazhagan told IANS. "If no case is filed, then we may have to approach the Madras High Court again."
Several political parties had demanded a CBI probe into the issue but the AIADMK government did not agree.
In June 2018, the Enforcement Directorate registered a money laundering case against unnamed government officials in Tamil Nadu based on a first information report (FIR) registered by the CBI in May.
The case is related to an Income Tax Department raid in the offices, residences and godowns of a gutkha manufacturer Madhava Rao in Tamil Nadu in 2016 for evading about Rs 250 crore tax.
A diary was seized from Rao's residence which listed alleged bribes paid to various officials amounting to about Rs 39.31 crore.
Stalin alleged that the AIADMK government had tried various measures to stall investigation into the scam.
The IT department had sent a report to the Tamil Nadu government about the alleged payoffs to various persons.
The state government claimed it did not receive any report from the IT department. But a copy of the letter sent to the state government by the IT department was seized from the room occupied by V.K. Sasikala in the late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's residence in November 2017.
The Tamil Nadu government has banned the manufacture and storage of gutkha. However, the product was reportedly available in the market with the alleged connivance of police officers and others.
Despite objections from the opposition parties, Rajendran was given a two-year extension in 2018 by the AIADMK government.