Monday, August 8, 2011

Court orders probe against Chandy; Cong rules out his resignation

Thiruvananthapuram: In a major setback to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, a Vigilance court here Monday ordered a probe to ascertain whether he had played any role in the 1992 palmolein oil import deal as the then Finance Minister in the K. Karunakaran government.

Opposition LDF lost no time in calling for his resignation but KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala said there was no question of the CM tendering resignation because of the direction issued by the vigilance court.

"No such situation exists. We respect the court direction," Chennithala told media persons after a hastily convened meeting with UDF colleagues. Stating that the Chief Minister will face the probe as ordered by the court Chennithala said the Congress party would take a decision on whether the CM should hold the vigilance portfolio.

Media reports said Oommen Chandy had offered to resign but UDF leaders advised him that there was no need to take such a step.

KCM supremo K.M. Mani and Muslim League leader P.K. Kunhalikkutty were of the opinion that the situation does not demand resignation by Oommen Chandy.

Passing the order, Special Vigilance Judge S Jagadeesh, rejected the report filed by investigators in April last stating there was no need for further probe to add any more person to the list of the accused.

The judge asked the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau to submit the probe report within three months.

The court while rejecting the report by Vigilance SP stressed on three points:

Oommen Chandy who was the finance minister had signed the file for bringing palmolein import as an exceptional item in the cabinet meeting on a suggestion by food minister T.H. Musthafa

The file was in the finance minister's office for a period of one-and-a-half months
The Chief Minister's spokesman said Chandy would react to the court order after examining it closely.

The finance minister knew about the need to impose 15 per cent service tax

The long-pending corruption case had cost P J Thomas the post of Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Thomas was listed as the sixth accused in the case relating to import of 32,000 tonnes of palmolein from Malaysia causing loss to the tune of Rs 2.32 crore to the exchequer.

Thomas, whose appointment as CVC was quashed by the Supreme Court, was the food secretary then and a director of the state Civil Supplies Corporation. Late Congress leader Karunakaran was the first accused in the case.

The import of 15,000 tonnes of palm oil was undertaken in 1992. The case was registered in 1999 when the Communists led by E.K. Nayanar were in power. The vigilance department had earlier submitted a report stating that there was nothing that could indict Chandy in the case.

Former chief minister K. Karunakaran, then food minister T.H. Mustafa and bureaucrats P.J. Thomas and Jiji Thompson were charged with causing a loss of Rs.2.32 crore by importing oil from Malaysia at an enhanced price.

The case was reopened earlier this year by the then Left government under V.S. Achuthanandan after Mustafa filed a petition asking the court that he also be allowed to go free as Chandy has not been named in the case.

Soon, the state government ordered a hurried investigation and the vigilance department submitted the report giving a clean chit to Chandy on May 13 -- the day the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won the assembly polls.

Opposition leader V.S Achuthanandan said the Chief Minister should resign in the wake of direction by the vigilance court.

Reacting to the new development, former home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that in the light of the court ordering a fresh probe by the same vigilance department and the same official, it will not be very helpful.

"The present vigilance department director should be asked to go. With Chandy himself holding the vigilance portfolio, he should give up the vigilance portfolio. It must be recalled that former central vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas had to step down because he is an accused in the case," said Balakrishnan.

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