In an unprecedented action, officers of the Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday entered the Tamil Nadu State Secretariat in Fort St George and conducted searches at the official chamber of Electricity Minister V Senthilbalaji in connection with an alleged job scam that took place when he was a member of the erstwhile J Jayalalithaa Cabinet (2011-15). Teams of the central agency also conducted searches at the Minister’s official bungalow in Chennai and other properties linked to him and his acquaintances in his native Karur and nearby Coimbatore district. A strong posse of armed paramilitary personnel was posted at his bungalow and other places of search.
At the time of filing this report at 7.30 pm, the searches, which had commenced in the forenoon, were under way. The Minister was confined to his house and the central paramilitary personnel prevented anyone from entering or leaving the premises.
Strongly condemning the “raid” at the Secretariat, DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin said this was a direct assault on the federal principle. “The backdoor tactics of BJP against its political opponents will not yield them desired results. BJP will learn it the hard way soon. The silence of people who are watching BJP's cheap acts of vindictive politics should not be underestimated. It is nothing but the calm before the storm of 2024 that will sweep BJP away,” Stalin said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, the Minister, who had returned from his morning walk on hearing about the ED searches, told journalists he had nothing to hide and will cooperate with the officials and give them any explanations required.
Senthilbalaji, a serial party hopper who had successful stints in the AIADMK and AMMK, also holds the plum portfolios of Excise and Prohibition. He is highly resourceful and considered to be one of the most influential ministers in the Stalin ministry, who has even edged out some seniors to bag solid portfolios, though he joined the DMK only in December 2018.
It is alleged that when he was Transport Minister in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet, money was allegedly paid as bribe to get jobs in the Metropolitan Transport Corporation. However, the appointment letters were not issued to them. Apart from a case registered by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption, the ED had also registered a money laundering case against him. Last month the Supreme Court had given the not to the ED to proceed against the Minister. Recently, the Income Tax Department had conducted searches at the houses of his brother and acquaintances.
This is the second time a central agency had conducted searches in the Tamil Nadu Secretariat. In December 2016, soon after Jayalalithaa’s death, the Income Tax Department had conducted searches at the official chamber of then Chief Secretary P S Rama Mohan Rao. He was later given a clean chit.