Mister Reddy Money
The mining baron’s papers are giving the AIADMK sleepless nights
Adiary and other incriminating papers seized from sand mining baron J. Sekhar Reddy suggest payoffs in the hundreds of crores to politicians— including AIADMK ministers—and officials in the state administration. Central revenue officials estimate that he handed out “at least Rs 400 crore” to party candidates and workers in the run-up to the 2016 assembly polls. The revelations couldn’t have come at a worse time for Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s government, struggling as it is with a factional feud that could tear the party asunder.
On May 5, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached properties worth Rs 33. 7 crore of Reddy and his associates, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The businessman from Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, has been in trouble since last November, when raids on his home, associates, offices of his SRS Mining Company and other facilities unearthed the incriminating documents. In raids in December
O. PANNEERSELVAM, WHO LEADS THE REBEL AIADMK FACTION, IS ALSO NOT IN THE CLEAR
2016, income tax authorities seized Rs 131 crore in cash, including Rs 34 crore in new Rs 2,000 notes, besides 177 kg of gold from Reddy and his associates K. Srinivasulu and Prem Kumar. The CBI then arrested Reddy for tax evasion. He got bail after spending 87 days in jail, only to be arrested again at the behest of the ED.
All this, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Reddy is an extraordinary businessman with top-level connections in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In many instances, he is said to have kept a record of the sums given with signatures. Reddy’s connections even landed him a seat on the prestigious board of the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, managers of the richest Hindu shrine in India. Of course, he was summarily sacked by Andhra CM N. Chandrababu Naidu after news of the Rs 131 crore stash became public. (Naidu quickly replaced him with Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, to pre-empt any controversies that might drag in the Tirumala temple.)
Investigations have also pointed to Kolkata businessman Parasmal Lodha, who allegedly helped convert over Rs 25 crore in old currency for Reddy post-demonetisation. Reddy also had business links with Vikram Rao, the son of former state chief secretary P. Rama Mohana Rao, who was removed from the post last December following IT searches at his home and office. Others allegedly associated with Reddy include health minister C. Vijayabaskar, reportedly the big fish in the net in the cash-for-votes scandal that led to the Election Commission cancelling the recent RK Nagar byelection.
The Palaniswami administration will now be under tremendous pressure to order an official probe in the case. Ex-CM O. Panneerselvam (OPS), who leads the rebel AIADMK faction, is also not in the clear. Images of him with Reddy at Tirumala were in circulation soon after the latter’s initial arrest. In a damage-control measure, OPS acolytes had then clarified that Reddy received him at the temple in his capacity as board member (an uncommon practice at Tirumala).
ENTER SANDMAN Ex-CM O. Panneerselvam (left) with Sekhar Reddy at Tirumala