Chennai/New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials searched at least 35 locations in Tamil Nadu and other states on Wednesday, including the residences of state health minister C. Vijayabaskar and director general of police T.K. Rajendran, for their alleged involvement in the multi-crore scam to allow the manufacture and sale of banned gutkha in the state.

The CBI officials searched the residential premises of the promoters and directors of a gutkha manufacturing company, as well as those of public servants including officials of the sales tax department, customs and central excise, food safety and drug administration department and jurisdictional police officials. CBI also searched the residences of former minister B.V. Ramana and former Chennai police commissioner S. George.

CBI in its press statement said that searches were conducted in Chennai, Thiruvallur, Thoothukudi, Puducherry, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Guntur, in an ongoing investigation relating to the gutkha scam case, according to CBI.

The raids led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M.K. Stalin to demand the resignation of the health minister and the DGP. “They should either resign immediately or the government must drop the minister from the cabinet and dismiss the DGP," he said.

The Tamil Nadu government had banned the manufacture, storage and sale of carcinogenic chewable forms of tobacco, including gutkha and pan masala, in 2013.

Investigations by the income tax (I-T) department in July 2016 at a godown of the manufacturer of the MDM brand of gutkha in Tamil Nadu had indicated the alleged involvement of state ministers and top officials of the police department. The I-T department found that the minister and some police officials had been paid a bribe of 39.91 crore.

In January, the I-T department informed the Madras high court that its “confidential letter" seeking action against those involved in the gutkha scam was seized from the Poes Garden residence of late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa who died in December 2016.

According to the affidavit, the I-T department had on 11 August 2016 written to the then Tamil Nadu chief secretary, Rama Mohan Rao, and the DGP in connection with the scam. The letter was addressed to both of them, with copies of the relevant accounts from the seized materials, it said. However, no action was taken.

In April, the Madras high court had ordered a CBI probe into the scam based on two public interest litigations, including one filed by DMK MLA J. Anbazhagan. The Supreme Court had upheld the high court’s decision in May.

“Besides the question regarding the necessity to ensure a fair and impartial investigation of the crime, whose tentacles were not limited to the state of Tamil Nadu but transcended beyond to other states and may be overseas besides involving high ranking officials of the state as well as the central Government, has now been directly answered," the apex court said in its order.

The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti- Corruption (DVAC), which is under the Tamil Nadu government had registered a case in September last year in this context but failed to file a charge sheet within the specified time of six months.

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