In a probe into an alleged collusion between a car smuggler and an official of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in Chennai, the CBI on Thursday morning landed at the residence of DMK heir apparent Stalin in search of a high end luxury vehicle Hummer that was registered in the name of his son Udayanidhi.
The house searched by the CBI team belongs to Udayanidhi and Stalin also stays there. The CBI team could not locate the vehicle and came back empty handed. The vehicle was imported in 2007.
Though, overtly the CBI defended its action saying that the search was conducted under section 165 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC) that authorises an investigating officer to search a place for anything necessary for the purpose of the investigation if he has reasonable grounds for believing that such a thing might be found there.
“It was a small procedure but timing was such (DMK breaking ties with UPA at the centre) that it was misunderstood. The team had just gone to locate the vehicle,” said a CBI spokesperson.
The CBI registered the case against alleged smuggler Alex C Joseph and DRI’s senior intelligence officer Muruganandan claiming that around 33 vehicles had been imported and sold in Tamil Nadu in violation of import provisions causing loss of up to Rs. 48 crore to the exchequer.
It is alleged that Muruganandan did not take any action even after identification of vehicles at the premises of certain users and unknown others.
The agency also pointed out that during searched at 18 places in Chennai, the agency managed to recover 17 high end vehicles.
Seven luxury cars were seized from chancellor of Shri Rama Chandra Medical College R Venkatachalan, two vehicles from MGM group of companies, one from a private person Mr Jhonson, five from one G K Shetty Ramanna, two from Raja Shankar.
But senior CBI officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the search conducted at Stalin’s residence was a ‘poor assessment of the prevailing situation’ and ideally, the DRI should have handled the case as it belonged to one of their staffer. And seizure of cars imported in violation of rules is the job of the DRI.
“The monkey didn’t belong to us. But now it is on our back and it has bitten us hard. We could have restrained ourselves from jumping into the fray, especially when the agency is constantly accused of acting at the behest of government. Though, it may not be a procedural lapse as the joint director in charge of the probe was well within his rights to order searches but it was a tactical error to do it at this time,” said a senior official.
Another senior official said: “When the CBI team had left for search of Stalin’s residence, the joint director in charge of Chennai zone in the agency duly informed his senior official about it. When the case was registered the basis of a source information from the DRI, the director of the CBI knew very well that some political personalities in Tamil Nadu have bought high end luxury vehicles through the smuggler under probe.”
Late in the evening, the agency ordered internal probe to check whether there was any procedural lapse in the conducting the search.
According to CBI sources, they have not arrested any accused in the case. As far as the CBI is concerned the alleged smuggler Alex C Joseph is ‘at large’ at the moment.
Joseph’s name first figured in connection high end luxury vehicle import fraud at least 12 years back. He was detained at Hyderabad airport in November, 2011 while traveling on a fake passport. He was handed over the DRI. “We will check his status,” said a CBI official.
Joseph is accused of importing around 400 highend luxury cars for filmstars, politicians and celebrities in last few years.
* CBI lands up at Stalin’s residence in Chennai in search of a Hummer registered in his son’s name
* Senior officials in Delhi duly informed by search party
* The team could locate Hummer and goes back empty handed
* Political uproar over CBI action puts the agency on the defensive
* CBI clarifies that it was a small procedure but due to timing it was misunderstood
* Senior officials admit that it was poor assessment of the prevailing situation