Vol. XLI No. 42 October 15, 2017

Solar Scam: Vigilance Probe against Former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy

The Judicial Commission’s report found that Oommen Chandy took large amounts as bribes directly and through others.

KERALA’S CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has ordered vigilance investigation against former chief minister Oommen Chandy of the Congress in the solar case. The probe has been ordered on the bases of the recommendations of the Justice (Retired) G Sivarajan, appointed by the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government.

The decision to order the probe was announced by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a press conference on October 11, where he outlined the findings of the Judicial Commission.

The solar scam, which surfaced in the year 2013, pertains to extensive fraudulent deals indulged in by Team Solar, a company run by Saritha Nair and her business partner Biju Radhakrishnan, by luring clients for solar panel installation schemes and offering to make them business partners. Saritha and Biju had used high-profile names including that of Chandy in order to canvas people for this purpose.

The couple is alleged to have amassed money by swindling investors of Rs 7 crore, and it was alleged that Chandy’s office was at the centre of the scam.

Pinarayi Vijayan announced criminal investigation against former home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, former energy minister Aryadan Muhammad, ex-MLA Thampanoor Ravi and ex-MLA Benny Behanan, all from the Congress.

The Commission’s report says that Oommen Chandy took large amounts as bribes directly and through others. Oommen Chandy, and through him, his staff members and aides Tenny Joppen, Jikku, Salim Raj, and Thomas Kuruvilla helped Saritha and her company illegally.

The report also says that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) which probed the case tried to save Chandy by avoiding the examination of important documents. Pinarayi Vijayan said that there will be department-level action against the officers involved in this.

The terms of reference for the SIT’s investigation was decided by the UDF government unilaterally. The attempt was to save the chief minister of that time by keeping him out of the purview of the investigation, said Pinarayi Vijayan.

The UDF government was party to the attempt to deceive the people. Oommen Chandy and his office (the Chief Minister's Office of the time) bear the main responsibility, said Vijayan.

The Commission has found that Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who was the home minister when Chandy was CM, influenced police officers in order to avoid criminal action against Chandy and others. Former energy minister Aryadan Muhammad also was party to corruption, the investigation has revealed.

Another special investigation team will now probe the cases against Chandy and Radhakrishnan. There will be investigation against Thampanoor Ravi and Benny Behanan for trying to save Chandy and to destroy evidence. The Commission has recommended that the sexual exploitation of Saritha S Nair by various accused persons should be brought under the purview of the anti-corruption law and investigated.

The investigation has found that although there was a complaint that Saritha S Nair was sexually assaulted, the investigation team did not investigate it. The Commission has also recommended department-level action against Padmakumar IPS and DySP Harikrishnan who gave the order for the flawed investigation.

The Judicial Commission was set up after a massive blockade of the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram by the LDF (which was then in opposition) on August 12, 2013. More than one lakh people had participated in the blockade which brought Kerala’s capital city to a standstill.

On January 25, 2016, Chandy became the first chief minister in the history of Kerala to depose before a judicial commission in connection with a scam. Chandy spent 14 hours that day answering questions by the Commission regarding his meetings with the main accused in the scam.

The day after Chandy’s deposition, Saritha revealed that she handed over a total of Rs 1.90 crore to Thomas Kuruvilla, the right-hand man of Chandy, in exchange of approval for solar projects. Aryadan Muhammed was given Rs 40 lakh, she said.

The Commission submitted its four-volume report which runs into 1073 pages to the LDF government on September 26, 2017. The government then sought legal advice from the Director General of Prosecution and the Advocate General. Following this, the government accepted the report and decided to take action on the basis of the legal advice received.

The Commission took evidence from 214 witnesses and examined 812 documents as part of the investigation.